Los Angeles Preps: Kevin Johnson

The Woodland Hills Taft boys basketball team couldn’t avenge a December loss to Corona Centennial in the semifinals of the Division I Southern California Regional. The game in December was a lot closer to boot.

Centennial buried Taft in the first quarter and cruised to a 13-point win, 94-81, to reach the Southern California Regional final and a chance to play for a state title in Sacramento.

Taft was down 24-9 in the first quarter. Centennial hit 11 3-pointers and showed no mercy as the game unfolded.

Taft saw its 17-game winning streak, which included the City Section championship game, come to an end.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored a team-high 19 points for Taft. CJ Blackwell scored 18 and Kevin Johnson scored 13.



Regional semifinals, Saturday

Division III

La Canada 60, Inglewood 50: Mike McGlashan scored 18 points and had seven assists to lead La Canada to its first CIF regional final since 2007. La Canada was down by a point and halftime and two points to start the fourth quarter. The Spartans outscored Inglewood, 20-8, in the fourth quarter.

La Verne Lutheran 61, Harvard-Westlake 45: Zena Edsomwan was the only player from Harvard-Westlake to score in double figures. He scored 14 points. Josh Hearlihy and Damiene Cain combined for 13 points for Harvard-Westlake.

Division IV

Oaks Christian 62, Visalia Central Valley Christian 55: Oaks Christian is in the Southern California Regional final for the first time in school history. Down by nine points in the first half, Oaks Christian went on a 16-3 run, keyed by Blair Holliday and Chass Bryan, in the second quarter to take a seven-point lead at halftime.

Division V

Sierra Canyon 74, View Park 64: Jahmel Taylor scored a game-high 31 points for Sierra Canyon. Bryan Alberts scored 18 and Julian Brooks had 11.

St. Bernard 64, Montclair Prep 53: Trey Dickerson scored 19 points and made four 3-pointers for Montclair Prep. Charles Lockett scored 12.


Regional semifinals, Saturday

Division II

Rialto 76, Harvard-Westlake 60: Harvard-Westlake was down by one point at halftime, but Rialto opened the second half with an 18-2 run and quickly pulled away. Natalie Florescu scored a team-high 19 points for Harvard-Westlake. Skylar Tsutsui scored 18 and Esther Lee had 14.

Buena 68, San Diego Westview 56: Buena’s Keani Albanez scored 27 points, had 15 rebounds and six steals. Buena will play Rialto in a rematch of the Southern Section Division 2AA championship game. Rialto won the Division 2AA title and earned the No. 1 seed in the CIF Division II Southern California Regional. Buena is the second-seeded team in the Southern California Regional.

Division V

Santa Clara 74, Visalia Central Valley Christian 48: Santa Clara has yet to be tested in the Southern Californa Regional. Cynthia Hernandez scored 27 points to lead three players from Oxnard’s Santa Clara in double figures. Santa Clara matched a school record for wins in a season with 28. The Saints will be making their fourth appearance in the CIF Southern California Regional finals and looking for their first regional championship.

Inland Empire and LA North: Centennial 94, Taft 81

March, 12, 2011

EASTVALE — The Corona Centennial boys’ basketball team dug a deep hole for Woodland Hills Taft in the opening five minutes of their Southern California Regional Division 1 semifinal Saturday and made sure the Toreadors didn’t see any daylight the rest of the way in the 94-81 victory at Roosevelt High.

“We knew we could get out on top of them early,” said Centennial senior guard Dominique Dunning. “Luckily, we’re hot.”

The second-seeded Huskies advanced to meet fourth-seeded Mater Dei in the regional championship game Saturday at USC's Galen Center. Mater Dei upset top-seeded Long Beach Poly, 72-55, on Saturday, setting up a rematch with Centennial, which beat the Monarchs last week in a Southern Section Division 1AA semifinal.

The rematch between Centennial and third-seeded Taft played out differently than when the teams met Dec. 29 in a fifth-place semifinal of the prestigious National Division at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic, but the result was the same. In the first meeting, the Huskies rallied from six points down at the start of the fourth quarter to win, 61-58.

The second time around, the Huskies surged to a 24-9 lead with 3 minutes 12 seconds still remaining in the opening quarter and didn’t allow Taft to get any closer than five the rest of the way.

Gelaun Wheelwright, coming off a 38-point performance in a quarterfinal victory Thursday against Westchester, scored 24 points to lead Centennial.

“The last three games, he’s making everything,” said Centennial coach Josh Giles. “He’s an unbelievable shot maker.”

Dunning contributed 21 points and nine rebounds and Michael Caffey had 17 points and 11 assists.

(Read full post)

LA North: Taft 65, La Costa Canyon 43

March, 10, 2011

WOODLAND HILLS – Taft boys basketball coach Derrick Taylor calls CJ Blackwell a “matchup nightmare.” At 6 feet 5 and 225 pounds, there aren’t many small forwards in high school who can match his size.

After his performance against La Costa Canyon, add agility and anticipation to that nightmare.

It was Blackwell’s hustle and quickness that sparked Taft to a 65-43 win over La Costa Canyon from Carlsbad in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Regional state playoffs at Taft High School on Thursday night.

He scored a team-high 20 points and had 17 rebounds. Most of his points came on put backs of missed shots by his teammates. He had eight offensive boards and spent the game tracking down loose balls and scrapping for rebounds.

“We didn’t run a lot of plays for him,” Taylor admitted after the game.

The game was surprisingly low-scoring. La Costa Canyon came into the game averaging 74.1 points in the playoffs. Taft is scoring 85.8 points per game in the playoffs.

The way the game started, it looked as if it was going to be another high-scoring affair. La Costa Canyon built a slight 8-4 lead in the first quarter and held it until the final minute. Blackwell hit a 3-pointer and put back a missed shot at the end of the first quarter to give his team a one-point lead, 16-15.

Taylor made a slight adjustment just before the end of the first quarter. He took his 6-foot-10 center Kevin Johnson out of the game and went with a smaller lineup. With a slightly smaller, but quicker unit in the game to start the second quarter, Taft went on a 10-0 run to widen its lead to 11 points.

Taft point guard Spencer Dinwiddie scored four of the 10 points in the run.

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LA North: CIF State Division I playoffs No. 3 Taft vs. La Costa Canyon

March, 9, 2011
CIF Boys Basketball State Division I playoffs

No.3 Woodland Hills Taft (28-2) vs. Carlsbad La Costa Canyon (29-4)

Second round

Woodland Hills Taft coach Derrick Taylor describes the La Costa Canyon boys' basketball team as “free-spirited.”

“They can really shoot that basketball like no tomorrow,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s players can shoot too. They put on quite an overpowering display against Clovis West in the first round of the CIF State playoffs on Tuesday night. Taft shot 55 percent from the field in an 83-45 blowout. The Toreadors were 19-for-28 from the field in the second half, making nearly 68 percent of their shots.

Stephen Maxwell hit 8-of-12 shots from the field for a team-high 17 points. Center Kevin Johnson was 6-of-8 from the field, mostly easy layups and dunks, and scored 12 points.

La Costa Canyon might shoot the ball with reckless abandon, but so does Taft at times. Taylor said he expected an up-tempo game, a style he would prefer.

“They just play,” Taylor said. “It’s easy to get uptight. I just want to compete. With talent and a willingness to compete, you always have a shot.”

Here are the five keys to the game for Taft:

(Read full post)

LA North: Woodland Hills Taft 83, Clovis West 45

March, 8, 2011

WOODLAND HILLS -- The size advantage the Woodland Hills Taft boys' basketball team had over Clovis West was pretty evident.

Taft’s biggest player is center Kevin Johnson at 6 feet 10.

West’s biggest player is guard Denzel Johnson at a generous 6-3.

The game plan for the first-round game of the CIF State Division I playoffs was fairly obvious for Taft coach Derrick Taylor. Feed the ball to Johnson and take advantage of the mismatch in the paint.

Taylor’s strategy worked almost too well. Taft beat Clovis West, 83-45, as Johnson was one of four Toreadors who scored in double figures. He scored 12 and had 10 rebounds. Teammate Stephen Maxwell scored a team-high 17 and had nine rebounds. Spencer Dinwiddie scored eight points and had 12 assists.

“We wanted to establish [Johnson] inside and take advantage of our size,” Taylor said. “This team can attack in a variety of ways. There’s a lot of versatility. We wanted to take advantage of that.”

Despite the blowout win, Taylor told his players in the locker room after the game not to make plans to play for the state championship in Sacramento just yet. Too many times in the past his teams have slipped up in the state playoffs and were eliminated in the early rounds.

Taft was in control from beginning to end against West. In the first quarter, Taft jumped out to a 12-0 lead. West cut the lead in half by the end of the quarter, but still trailed by 13 points, 26-13.

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CIF Boys Basketball State Division I playoffs

No. 3 Woodland Hills Taft (27-2) vs. Clovis West (25-5)

Taft won the CIF City Section Division I championship, 66-62, over Westchester. Clovis West lost the Central Section Division I championship, 54-51, to Bullard.

Taft coach Derrick Taylor might have a challenge getting his players to focus on the first round of the CIF State playoffs after an emotional win over Westchester. It was the first time in three tries Taylor and Taft beat Westchester to win the City championship.

But Taylor said his players were excited to be at practice on Monday. They are focused on the next task at hand. They have their sights set on a state championship.

“They’re all good. We’re in good shape,” Taylor said, adding that beating Westchester meant more to the players than him. “It was important to them. They made it about me.”

Here are the five keys for Taft against Clovis West:

(Read full post)

LA North and LA South: Taft 78, Palisades 59

February, 25, 2011
LOS ANGELES -- At times, Spencer Dinwiddie makes playing the game of basketball appear to be so effortless that the casual observer might not realize how many things he does well.

Such was the case Friday night in a City Section playoff game. The senior point guard from Woodland Hills Taft High nearly had a triple-double in a 78-59 semifinal victory over Palisades at Galen Center, finishing with 20 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and four steals to boot.

“I felt good out there, I had everything working,'' said Dinwiddie, who will attend Colorado next season. “My job is to keep everyone involved and get mine when I can, I think I did that tonight.''

With the victory over the fifth-seeded Dolphins (18-13), the top-seeded Toreadors (26-2) move on and advance to next week's finals against Westchester, a 67-58 winner over Washington in the other semifinal.

“Spencer did a good job running things, but that' something we expect from him on a nightly basis,'' Taft coach Derrick Taylor said. “When he's active, we like out chances.''

Make no mistake, Dinwiddie had plenty of help along the way.

Khiry Williams scored a career-high 20 points for the Toreadors, Kevin Johnson added 11 points and 11 rebounds and C.J. Blackwell chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds.

(Read full post)

ESPNLA top 20 boys' basketball rankings

January, 25, 2011
There are no significant changes at the top of the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20 boys' basketball rankings this week. A shakeup toward the bottom half of the top 10, however, was in order after one team was dealt a surprising setback.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that a pair of programs are making their first appearance in the rankings following the exits of Murrieta Valley and Los Angeles Fairfax, a pair of schools that could be back in the mix sooner rather than later.

Some other teams to keep a close eye on are Aliso Niguel, Compton and La Verne Damien, along with Pasadena, Ventura and Los Angeles Washington. A couple of quality victories over the next couple of days figure to go a long way.

1. (1) Long Beach Poly (18-0): Winning Moore League games by an average of 42 points. Are you kidding me? Running the table appears to be entirely possible.

2. (2) Etiwanda (20-0): Jordan Daniels doesn't receive enough credit. All of that, however, could end up changing if the senior point guard keeps the Eagles flying high.

3. (3) Mater Dei (18-2): There are no easy games in the tough Trinity League. St. John Bosco looms on Wednesday followed by a showdown with Orange Lutheran on Friday.

4. (4) Centennial (16-3): Big VIII League games against Riverside King on Tuesday evening and Riverside Poly on Thursday night figure to offer little, or no, resistance.

5. (5) Taft (15-2): Kevin Johnson has been focused on the task at hand recently. And make no mistake, when the senior is motivated, the Toreadors are seemingly unstoppable.

6. (7) Westchester (18-5): With a showdown against rival Fairfax on Thursday, perhaps the Comets are primed for an upset loss Wednesday against Hamilton. Perhaps not.

7. (8) Canyon (19-2): Chris Anderson might be a tad bit undersized. He is, after all, 5-foot-7. Thing is, no one plays a bigger role tor the Comanches than the senior point guard.

8. (9) Harvard-Westlake (17-2): Damiene Cain and Zena Edosomwan are a potent one-two punch down in the post and they work the high-low game to near perfection.

9. (10) Mission Viejo (22-0): At 6-10, Issac Neilson is proving to be a force on both ends of the floor. Aliso Niguel will attempt to stop the BYU-bound senior on Friday night.

10. (6) Orange Lutheran (16-5): Suffered a setback with loss to Cezar Guerrero and St. John Bosco. Now, it is time to see how the Lancers respond to some adversity.

(Read full post)

LA North: Taft 100, Chatsworth 74

January, 13, 2011
CHATSWORTH -- If the Woodland Hills Taft High boys’ basketball team was going to receive a challenge from anybody in the West Valley League, Chatsworth was thought to be one of the few legitimate threats.

Turns out, the only program that seems capable of beating the Toreadors is themselves. And that much was blatantly obvious on Thursday night as Taft thoroughly dominated the host Chancellors in a 100-74 victory.

“This game might have been big for them, but as far as we were concerned, the outcome was never in doubt,’’ Toreadors coach Derrick Taylor said. “Sure, they might have a lot of pride, and sure, they might have had a puncher’s chance. Bottom line is, they didn’t hit us very hard out there tonight.’’

The game was somewhat close in the opening minutes as Derrick Hector ended up hitting a pair of timely three-pointers to give the Chancellors (16-5, 0-2) a four-point advantage with 2:26 remaining in the first quarter.

Taft (13-2, 2-0) answered, of course.

First, Spencer Dinwiddie converted a layup in traffic for the Toreadors. Then, Brandon Perry and Stephen Maxwell got free underneath the basket for a couple of uncontested buckets. Next thing you know, Taft had put together a 10-0 run to take a six-point lead at the end of the first quarter of play.

It was more of the same in the second quarter.

More of the Toreadors scoring seemingly at will.

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LA North: Boys' basketball top 10

January, 4, 2011
Crespi, Harvard-Westlake and Ventura won tournaments over the holiday break. Woodland Hills Taft lost its first and second games of the season. Thousand Oaks lost its first game of the season. The Southern Section teams begin league play this week. The City Section teams start their league seasons next week.

1. (2) Crespi (12-3) – Crespi has won nine games in a row including the championship game of the Marin Catholic Tournament. The Celts beat University from Irvine, 69-52, to win the Marin Catholic Tournament. Matt Mounier scored 35 points in the championship game and earned MVP of the tournament.

2. (5) Harvard-Westlake (11-2) – Harvard-Westlake won the Invitational Division of the Desert Heat Invitational. Josh Hearlihy won the tournament MVP. Zena Edosomeone and Jordan Butler earned spots on the all-tournament team. The Wolverines have won eight games in a row, including the 65-57 win over Silverado from Nevada in the championship game of the Desert Heat Invitational.

3. (1) Woodland Hills Taft (12-2) – Taft lost its first two games of the season in the Torrey Pines Tournament in San Diego. The Toreadors ended the tournament on a winning note, beating Corona Del Mar, 65-53, in the seventh-place game. Kevin Johnson led the way with 20 points and 12 rebounds against Corona Del Mar.

4. (8) Thousand Oaks (13-1) – Thousand Oaks lost its first game of the season, 60-52, to Capistrano Valley in the championship game of the Desert Heat Invitational. Richard Mullaney and Anthony Jacques earned spots on the all-tournament team.

5. (5) Ventura (14-1) – Ventura won its own tournament, beating Canyon, 56-36, in the championship game. Dylan Houck was the tournament MVP and scored 11 points in the championship game against Canyon. Jared Wilson made the all-tournament team for the Cougars, who have won 12 games in a row.

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Taft's C.J. Blackwell glad to be back

December, 14, 2010

WOODLAND HILLS -- Welcome back.

It had been a while since C.J. Blackwell was in the familiar surroundings of the Southland, years and years in fact. He did, after all, spend quite a bit of his youth growing up in Georgia, fine tuning his basketball skills on the other side of the country.

Palm trees and the beach, the Lakers and Staples Center, along with traffic and the crowded freeway systems around these parts were the furthest things on the mind of the Los Angeles native. Blackwell went about his business accordingly, plain and simple.

This past summer, however, when the opportunity to return to his roots finally presented itself, he jumped at the chance. Months later, with a spot secured in the starting lineup at Taft High, it’s as if Blackwell never left the place he used to call home.

“It’s nice to be back, no doubt,’’ said Blackwell, an 18-year old senior who was born in the greater Los Angeles area and moved to the South to be with family before he was 10. “I think I’ve been able to fit in at Taft, all of my teammates are cool. We think we can do some big things this season, that’s our main goal, our only focus.’’

The arrival of Blackwell could not have come at a better time considering the Toreadors lost a pair of key players from last season’s team that advanced to the City Section championship game, where it lost to Los Angeles Westchester, 70-60.

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LA North and LA South: Taft beats Westchester in basketball showdown

December, 5, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- With the Southern Section high school football playoffs seemingly heating up all over the Southland, it would be easy to understand why a high-profile boys’ basketball showcase such as the Westchester Tournament could potentially be overlooked.

But missing out on a chance to catch the talent on hand during Saturday night’s game between Woodland Hills Taft and the host Comets in the tournament championship game proved to be far too good of an opportunity to pass up, even with all of the gridiron goings on.

The Toreadors lineup, loaded with a number of NCAA Division I type recruits, entered the showdown as the prohibitive favorite. And they looked every bit the part. Taft was impressive from start to finish en route to winning the title with a 71-60 victory over Westchester.

Colorado-bound Spencer Dinwiddie had to be considered as one of the marquee names and he did little to tarnish his reputation on Saturday. ESPNU ranks the 6-foot-3 senior point guard as the nation’s No. 25 player at his position and he scored 18 points against the Comets.

Another of Taft’s many prospects to play well was Kevin Johnson, a 6-9 and 225-pound senior center who is being recruited by the likes of Baylor, Illinois and Kentucky, to name a few. The big man finished with a substandard six points, but his impact was felt on the defensive end against Westchester.

C.J. Blackwell is a newcomer at Taft, having moved to Southern California from Georgia. And it appears as if the 6-5 senior small forward is fitting in just fine with his new teammates. Blackwell, who’s been contacted by several schools, ended up with 18 points.

As for the Comets, they don’t have nearly as many household names. Nevertheless, Robert Gsellman played well. The 6-5 junior wing had 15 points for Westchester. Fellow underclassman Keywhon Powns added 12 points.