Los Angeles Preps: Southern California Regional Championships

ONTARIO -- People talk about Mater Dei's big three, but coach Gary McKnight doesn't see it that way. He calls it the "Big Team," and his squad of front-runners -- they began the season as the No. 1 team in the state and have been there all season despite the target on their jerseys -- took another step Saturday toward repeating as state champion.

Playing the heavy to Fresno Bullard's Cinderella, Mater Dei scored an 85-66 victory at Citizens Bank Arena in the Division I finals of the Southern California Regional Championshps.

The Monarchs (33-2) will play Sacramento Sheldon (29-5), a 61-56 winner over Carmichael Jesuit, next Saturday in Sacramento at 8 p.m.

The big three, err, Mater Dei's top three players led the way against the Knights (31-4).

Xavier Johnson scored 26, Stanley Johnson 18 and Katin Reinhardt 14 for Mater Dei. But Elijah Brown added 14 and five assists, and Eli Stalzer scored eight with three assists and only two turnovers against Bullard's suffocating pressure.

"What worried me is they looked like the team that had the fairytale run that we had last year," McKnight said.

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ONTARIO --Mater Dei withstood an emotional charge by Long Beach Poly in the second half and won the right to defend it two consecutive state titles.

The Monarchs, the top-seeded team in the Southern California Regional Championships, scored a 54-43 victory over third-seeded Poly on Saturday in the Division I finals at Citizens Bank Arena.

Mater Dei was paced by Nirra Fields, who scored 20 points, and Alexas Williamson, who scored 14.

The game pitted Mater Dei (32-3), the No. 1 ranked team in the state, against Poly (31-4), ranked No. 3. They are ranked 1-2 in the state in Division I, essentially playing a de facto state championship.

The Monarchs will play in Sacramento next Saturday, 6 p.m., against the North champion, Berkeley, a 56-38 winner over Sacramento Kennedy. Berkeley is ranked fourth in the state in the division.

"It means a lot," Kevin Kiernan, Mater Dei's coach, said of the opportunity to win three in a row. "We're trying to build something here, obviously. ... That's why we work so hard."

Williamson proved especially important in the third quarter, when Poly had to make its push. The Jackrabbits, trailing 27-18, opened the third with Destiny King's rebound, but Williamson answered with back-to-back 3-pointers, and then Andee Velasco added another three for a 36-18 lead.

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There's nothing second-rate about the meeting Saturday night to determine the Southern California Regional Champion in girls' Division I basketball.

In what may well be the marquee game of the day in a a de facto state championship contest, Mater Dei (32-3) will take on Long Beach Poly (31-3) in the 6 p.m. game at Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario.

There's not a northern team ranked ahead of third-seeded Poly, which was No. 4 in the state before it beat second-seeded Brea Olinda in the regional semifinals Tuesday, an impressive 64-50 road victory on the Ladycats' home floor floor. Poly had a 48-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter, then closed strong. Destiny King scored 16, sophomore Arica Carter 14 and Breeyon Alexander 10 in that victory.

For Poly to win the right to advance to the state title game in Sacramento, it will have to overcome a Mater Dei team that has been rejuvenated by the stellar play of Jordan Adams recently. The oft-injured guard has put up some impressive numbers in the last two games, and if she has any kind of a night against the Jackrabbits she will make it tough on Poly. Against Fontana Summit, she had 23 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four blocks. Against Huntington Beach, 24 points, 13 rebounds six assists and three steals.

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SANTA ANA -- Mater Dei, in search of a third consecutive girls' basketball state title, got another step closer Saturday when it defeated Huntington Beach, 80-52, on the Monarchs' home floor.

Mater Dei was led by Jordan Adams, who scored 24 points and also had 13 rebonds, six assists and three steals as the Monarchs advanced to the next round against Fontana Summit, a 45-44 winner over Corona Santiago.

Huntington Beach (26-6) made 17 3-point baskets in its last game, a 71-51 victory over San Diego, and that was the challenge facing the Mater Dei defense -- shut down the three. They did so fairly effectively, limiting the Oilers to nine.

Mater Dei led 25-16 after one quarter and 43-36 at halftime, but put distance between it and the Oilers with a 24-9 scoring edge in the third quarter. Mater Dei got 13 steals against Huntington Beach.

Nirra Fields scored 18 with seven rebounds and four steals for the Monarchs, and Alexas Williamson had 15 points.

Huntington Beach was led by Maya Kennedy with 15 points and Paola Roa with 13. Leading scorer Kelsey Minato was limited to nine points; she had eight threes and 28 points against San Diego, but got no 3-point baskets against the Mater Dei defense.

SANTA ANA -- Katin Reinhardt may have been under the weather, but Xavier Johnson was on top of the clouds. Mater Dei, the defending champion in State Division I, opened up the Southern California Regional Championships with one of its big guns fighting flu.

But Coach Gary McKnight has more than Reinhardt in his holster.

Johnson scored 25 points and Mater Dei withstood a 3-point assault by Crescenta Valley to score a 66-47 home victory on Wednesday to advance to the second round of the tournament on Saturday.

The game was actually closer than it might appear by virtue of the Falcons' 3-point shooting. They made 8-of-19.

"I knew we were going to be in trouble because you tell guys they can shoot the three -- but they really have three or four guys who can shoot the ball -- you have a five-, six-point lead and it's looking good, boom-boom, it's tied," McKnight said.

But the star power of Mater Dei (30-2), and a 36-20 rebounding edge, helped the Monarchs avoid becoming victims of an upset.

"When you have three guys like Xavier, Stanley (Johnson) and Katin, two out of three guys will usually get you a win," McKnight said.

Stanley Johnson scored 11 points with four rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Mater Dei, which had a 15-5 lead at the end of the first quarter, trailed early in the third, 29-27. The Falcons made six of their eight 3-point baskets in that span, and took the lead when Davis Dragovich's driving layup fell through the net with 6 minutes 19 seconds remaining in the third.

For Crescenta Valley (26-6) , that was just about the last hurrah. Mater Dei scored the next eight points, and after CV's Dylan Kilgour sunk a three to cut his team's deficit to 35-32, Xavier Johnson took over.

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