Plain and simple, there probably is no boys' basketball program around that is as hot as Loyola right about now.
North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake would most likely attest to that after running into the Cubs on Friday night as Loyola walked away with a 71-51 victory in a game that figures to shake up the Mission League standings.
“Honestly, this team is growing and becoming stronger with each and every game we play,'' Loyola coach Jamal Adams said. “They stand together and fight, they scrap, they claw their way to wins. You know what, that has been a recipe for success.''
The Wolverines (21-3, 9-1), No. 7 in the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20 rankings, entered the showdown against their longtime league rival in first place. They were riding an impressive 18-game winning streak, so confidence was not lacking.
However, none of that mattered to the second-place Cubs (19-5, 9-2), ranked No. 8 in the ESPNLA rankings. They appeared to be determined from the start.
The Cubs jumped out to a 19-12 lead by the end of the first quarter. They did not let up in the second quarter thereafter as Joe Stein knocked down a number of shots from out on the perimeter to help guide Loyola to a 15-point advantage at the break.
Julian Harrell took over after intermission. Harvard-Westlake had seemingly no answer for the junior, who scored 14 points for the Cubs in the third quarter. Next thing the Wolverines knew, they trailed 53-39 heading into the fourth quarter.
Things did not get much better for Harvard-Westlake the rest of the way. Ultimately, the comfortable Loyola lead proved insurmountable.
“We talked about some things this week, things such as approaching the Loyola game as if it was just like any other on the schedule. But it's a rivalry game and we knew that there would be a lot at stake in this one,'' Wolverines coach Greg Hillard said.
By most accounts, if you can stop Damien Cain, Zena Edosomwan and Josh Hearlihy, you can stop the Wolverines. And this time around, it worked for the Cubs. The trio combined for 32 points, a total that is far below their per game average this season.
Stein scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half. Harrell finished with a game-high 24 points. Parker Cartwright chipped in with 13 points.
The victory over Harvard-Westlake comes less than one week after Loyola upset then-No. 2 Etiwanda by six points at the Fairfax State Preview Classic
“What can I say? We are playing well at the right time of the season,'' Adams said. “I like to think that this team has been forged in fire in some ways. The last couple of wins have been great for the psyche of the kids. Our confidence continues to grow and grow.''
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.