Mater Dei sophomore M.J. Cage, left, is guarded by Mayfair junior Kendall… (Bret Hartman / For The Times )
With Stanley Johnson experiencing a rare off game, unbeaten Santa Ana Mater Dei High turned to 6-foot-10 sophomore M.J. Cage, who delivered 24 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks to help the Monarchs defeat Riverside North, 62-49, in a Southern Section Open Division semifinal boys' basketball game Tuesday night.
If North (26-3) can take any solace, it's that the Huskies gave the Monarchs (30-0) a real scare, putting together a 15-0 run to take a 31-29 lead midway through the third quarter on a three-pointer by Dikymbe Martin.
A half-court trap called for by North Coach Mike Bartee was forcing turnovers and creating real confusion for Mater Dei.
"It was tough to watch," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said.
Johnson was struggling with his free-throw shooting (he was three for nine). By the start of the fourth quarter, Mater Dei was clinging to a 37-35 advantage.
But in the final eight minutes, Cage, Johnson and Isaiah Juarez broke though the North defense to score decisive baskets. Mater Dei went on a 10-0 run.
Johnson finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Juarez had nine points.
"One thing the 1-3-1 did was keep me in the distributor mode," said Johnson, who had 42 points last week against Lakewood Mayfair.
Getting the ball to Cage inside helped beat the trapping defense. The development of Cage, the son of former NBA player Michael Cage, has been crucial to Mater Dei's success.
"I'm trying to get more confidence in myself," Cage said.
Deshon Taylor led North with 16 points. The Huskies were outrebounded, 44-25.
Mater Dei will play Chino Hills in Saturday's 6:30 p.m. final at Honda Center. Chino Hills defeated Redondo, 70-61. It sets up an individual matchup between the Arizona-bound Johnson and sophomore guard Lonzo Ball, who has committed to UCLA.
"I've never seen him in my life, but I'm excited to play against him," Johnson said.
Chino Hills has won 16 consecutive games.
In Tuesday's 1AA semifinals, Long Beach Poly defeated Inglewood, 48-47. The Jackrabbits, going for a 20th section title, will meet Mission Viejo on Saturday. Mission Viejo defeated Long Beach Millikan, 76-59.