Long Beach Poly already accomplished Goal 1A, winning the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA boys' basketball championship last week. Now the Jackrabbits set their sights on Goal 1B: a state title.
Star forward Ryan Anderson was the only one jumping for joy after Poly (29-1) claimed the sectional crown against Centennial at Anaheim Arena last Saturday. That was by design. Most of his teammates held off on the dance moves -- and won't do so until the Jackrabbits win state.
The journey to Sacramento begins Tuesday night at 7 p.m. when top-seeded Poly hosts Palisades (18-13) in the first round of the CIF State basketball championships.
Five keys to the game:
1. Palisades might want to avoid a slow start, which doomed them against Woodland Hills Taft in the CIF-City Section semifinals. Poly, meanwhile, jumped all over fast-paced Centennial and never let up, coasting to an uneventful championship win. Don't be surprised if Palisades coach James Paleno burns a few timeouts early to put an end to runs.
2. Yeah, the ultimate prize awaits in Sacramento, but Poly must maintain focus and not get ahead of itself. Championships aren't won in one night. Seniors Alexis Moore and Alex Carmon have fallen short before, so they know that. Anderson doesn't think focus will be a problem. "There's been a target on our back all season," he said. "We'll get everyone's best shot."
3. Anderson's post presence will be crucial, especially since there isn't a Palisades player that can see him eye to eye. The Boston College-bound forward was a major factor against Centennial, hauling in a game-high 21 rebounds and scoring 18 points. He fell just short of Poly assistant A.J. Diggs' pregame demand of 20 points and 20 rebounds. "It was the extra focus I needed to get my game started," Anderson said of his pregame pep talk with Diggs. The two figure to chat before every game the rest of the way.
4. Home-court advantage. A road environment, road crowd and unfamiliar floor will only make it tougher on the visiting Dolphins. The Jackrabbits haven't lost at home in two years.
5. Top scorers Donovan Johnson and Adam Griffin will have to crack Poly's smothering defense if Palisades hopes to pull off the upset. Poly's players joked that coach Sharrief Metoyer spends all but two minutes of a typical two-hour practice on defense. "We try not to get away from what makes us special," Moore said. "I've been playing varsity since my sophomore year and defense has always been our staple."