SANTA ANA -- The pace was slow, and played right into the hands of Aliso Niguel on Tuesday when it took the floor against Mater Dei. Only problem is that Aliso had butterfingers and let the opportunity slip away.
Too many turnovers in a decisive second quarter effectively ended any chance of the Wolverines staging an upset of fourth-seeded Mater Dei in the first round of the Southern Regional Division I Championships for boys' basketball.
It ended with a 66-46 victory for Mater Dei, which will play host on Thursday to Loyola, a 55-53 winner over San Diego Torrey Pines.
Xavier Johnson led Mater Dei (28-3) with 13 points, followed by Katin Reinhardt with 11 and Eli Stalzer with 10.
On the strength of sophomore guard Scott Lynds, Aliso Niguel trailed after one quarter, 15-11, in a game that was slowed by 45 fouls -- 23 on Aliso, 22 on Mater Dei.
But turnovers on its first five possessions of the second quarter put Aliso in a 10-point hole, and Bryan Fisher's drive to the basket at the 4:00 mark was the Wolverines' only field goal of the quarter. They were outscored 14-3 and went into the half trailing, 29-14.
The opening minutes of the second quarter resembled the first quarter, when Aliso turned the ball over on its first four possessions and fell behind 7-0, but eventually pulled to within 13-11.
Lynds, the 5-foot-8 point guard, had 10 of Aliso's 14 points at halftime. He finished with a game-high 17. Daniel Spitler added 10.
"We were a little nervous coming out of the gate, they hit some shots, we just couldn't get anything going," said Keith Barnett, the Aliso coach whose team finished 26-4. "Our little point guard kept us in the game.
"They were beatable, though we would have had to play very well. They were down coming out of their semifinal loss, and I thought if we came out and played well we might have an opportunity. Our guys were excited, but we just couldn't hit shots and had some careless turnovers."
There were 26 turnovers by the Wolverines, and in the second half Aliso never got closer than 11 points, with 1:59 remaining when Jonah Ganz made a three-point basket from the corner to pull to 57-46.
"We played real flat," said Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight. "We played one game in 14 days, and even that wasn't very good, you'd think we would have some fire. I expected a lot more."
Mater Dei made 23 of 28 free throws, and Aliso made 11 of 21.
It's the second game in a row that Aliso Niguel scored 46 points—its second-lowest output of the season. It was beaten in the semifinals of the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs by Capistrano Valley in a similar scenario, letting the game get away in the second quarter with a big run.
McKnight agreed his team was beatable on this night, and the Monarchs can't afford such dismissive efforts in the future if they hope to win a state championship.
"Absolutely," he said of the need to get better from here on. "We've had moments when we're brilliant, and moments when were flat. Tonight we were very flat."
But still rolling in forward in the playoffs.