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Written by Mike Terry, Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 08 March 2012 05:06

COURTESY OF LOS ANGELES CITY SECTION

West Valley Rules -- Players from El Camino Real (top) and Taft (bottom) celebrate winning City Section boys' basketball championships last weekend. ECR won the Division II title against Los Angeles Garfield, the team's first ever boys' basketball crown. Taft beat Los Angeles Dorsey to repeat as Division I champions. Both teams play in the West Valley League.

Taft, El Camino Real and Grant all pursued City Section boys' basketball titles in Divisions I, II and III, while Monroe chased the girls' Division II title.

Here is a recap of a frantic, funfilled weekend in prep basketball.

Palisades 53, Monroe 49, March 2, Los Angeles Roybal Learning Center

Do-overs.

You don't get them in sports, at least not on the same night. But Monroe Coach Quincy Brooks wished he could have gotten back the first six minutes of the girls' Division II title game against Pacific Palisades.

Although the Vikings mostly played a man-to-man defense during the season, Brooks – concerned with the Dolphins' superior inside size and strength – used a 1-3-1 zone instead to open the game.

The strategy backfired as Palisades (28-6) blew out to a 14-0 lead in the first 4:41, keyed by a pair of three-pointers by Dolphins senior guard Skai Thompson. Monroe was buried in a deep hole, and spent the rest of the game trying to climb out.

"I've got to take that on the chin," Brooks said afterward. "As a coach I should have stuck with what we had been doing the whole year. I tried throwing in a wrinkle in the defense and paid for it.

"We spotted them 14 points, and you can't do that to a team of that caliber and expect to win."

Monroe junior guard Aysat Afolabi finally broke the Vikings' goose egg with a free throw at 3:19 of the first quarter, and moments later drove in for a layup. But Monroe trailed 18-3 at the end of the quarter, and was still down 28-14 at the half, and 41-28 after three quarters.

To the Vikings credit, they didn't quit. Afolabi, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds, began finding gaps in the Dolphins defense to slash through and score. Monroe (23-10) also got a big boost from senior guard Jecena Trinidad, who had 12 points and five rebounds, and senior guard Maya Campo, who made four treys and scored 13 points.

But Monroe, despite forcing 20 Dolphins turnovers, could not overcome Palisades' senior forward tandem of Donae Moguel and Asia Smith, who combined for 23 points and 26 rebounds.

The Vikings also ran out of time. They whittled the Dolphins lead down to 51-49 with 19 seconds to play, but could not get a tying basket.

"We were so energetic, and started off the game extremely fast and well, that it caught us off-guard," Palisades Coach Torino Johnson said. "And as the game went on, Monroe became more steady. It was kind like the stock market. We peaked and came crashing."

Just not all the way.

El Camino Real 62, Garfield 53, March 2, Roybal Learning Center

It will be a few more years before Maleke Haynes is old enough to drink. But it will be a long time before the sophomore guard has to buy one in Woodland Hills.

At least for those who will remember Haynes' dramatic three-pointer with 1:40 left in the fourth quarter that ultimately propelled ECR past a game and scrappy Los Angeles Garfield squad, and secured the school's first boys' basketball title.

It was Hayne's only basket of the game. But it will rank as the biggest shot in Conquistadors history for now.

ECR (22-7), with only one senior on its 14-player roster, was one of the youngest teams – if not the youngest – to win a City title in 2011-12. Sophomore guard Julian Richardson led the Conquistadors, and all scorers, with 25 points.

More important, El Camino Real didn't fall apart under pressure the way its 2010 team had, leading by 17 after three quarters but losing the Division III title game by eight to Verdugo Hills.

And Garfield (26-8) certainly applied the pressure. The Bulldogs had looked like underdogs in the beginning, trailing 28-15 with three minutes to go in the second quarter. But along with its grit, Garfield had a couple of solid playmakers in senior forwards Joe Joaquin and Aguilar Francisco. Both scored 15 points, and both kept ECR from running away with the contest.

Garfield had closed to within 28-22 at halftime, and 40-35 at the end of the quarter. Then the Bulldogs used a 9-2 run to take their first lead, 42-40, with 5:32 left to play. Their fans filled the gym with their cheering, while on the El Camino Real side, fan's throats were drying up.

The ECR players, however, stayed cool. Conquistadors junior forward Mychael Thomas, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds, tied the game on a layup. The contest was nip and tuck the rest of the way until the 1:40 mark.

At the time, El Camino Real was nursing a 52-49 lead with the ball, and the shot clock had dwindled down to a few seconds. Haynes was dribbling around the perimeter and looking for someone to pass to when, in desperation, he bounced off a defender and heaved a line drive toward the basket as the shot clock expired.

"I saw the clock running down and I just wanted to draw a foul," said Haynes, who totaled five points but had eight rebounds and five assists. "I threw up the shot and it went in."

"The shot of the game," ECR Coach Dave Rebibo said. "It deflated them and gave us confidence."

Garfield scored just one more point in that final 1:40, missing six of their final seven free throws.

But Rebibo couldn't fully exhale until the game was over.

"We didn't shoot the ball very well (17 of 56, 30.4 percent) and I thought we had chances to increase the lead," Rebibo said. "A lot of that had to with youth and inexperience in this caliber of a game. And I think that had a big part in it.

"But I was so proud of our guys. They just kept battling, and doing everything they had to get the 'W.' They're not juniors and sophomores anymore."

Bell 45, Grant 39, March 3, Cal State Dominguez Hills

Mission almost accomplished.

Grant (27-6) had poured its heart and energy into this season, certain that it had the makeup, experience and talent to win the boys' Division III championship.

But the best plans can be undone by the simplest of things – in this case, shooting.

The Lancers only shot 31.8 percent (14 of 44) against the 2- 3 zone defense thrown at them by Bell, and had a 4:42 scoreless stretch in the fourth quarter that doomed them to a 45- 39 loss to the Eagles.

It was the third boys' title for Bell (21-5), and its first championship since winning the then Invitational Division against Los Angeles Hamilton in 2007.

Grant is still looking for its boys' first championship. It last reached a final in 1988, but lost the 3A Division title game to Hamilton.

This one had to hurt as much as then, if not more. The Lancers, with nine seniors on the roster, were the top seed in Division III and had looked solid in the playoffs. So had Bell, seeded second, and on this day the Eagles played the better game – especially down the stretch.

"We picked the wrong day to play our worst game," Grant Coach Howard Levine, in his 26th season, said afterward.

Center Gor Plavchyan, a senior, scored 11 points and had 13 rebounds to lead the Lancers.

Grant had a 21-18 halftime lead, in part because it broke a 9-9 first quarter tie by scoring the first six points of the second quarter. Still, both teams struggled mightily to make shots. The Lancers were eight of 21 in the first half, while the Eagles made just five of their 22 attempts.

It's not unusual for teams to struggle with shooting in venues where the sightlines are nothing like their home gym. And both teams played consistent, physical defense. It was Bell, however, that got untracked. Midway through the third quarter, Eagles guard Daniel knocked down consecutive three-pointers to put Bell ahead 30-25. Forward Mychael Deas, who led all scorers with 18 points, also swished a trey near the end of the quarter to bolster Bell's advantage to 36- 30.

Grant entered the fourth quarter down, 36-31, but got a layup by forward Tullio Parry, and a dunk by Plavchyan to pull within a point. It was here the Lancers entered their Ice Age, unable to get another field goal until guard Gurgen Harutyunyan – who was 2 of 13 from the field – got a layup to drop in with 1:43 to play.

Bell wasn't exactly scorching the nets, shooting 37.5 percent for the game. But the Eagles did make 10 of 18 attempts in the second half, and did just enough offensively and defensively to frustrate any comeback attempt by the Lancers.

Eagles Coach Alexander Del Hierro praised his team's ability to adjust its play in the second half.

"I credit our mental state of mind," Del Hierro said. "I told them to just pretend they were in their gym, focus on the basket, and forget about everything else. It was a problem early on, but I told them 'do not let the court size and basket be a factor.'

"I'm very proud of them, putting the school back on the map."

Taft 58, Dorsey 42, March 3, Cal State Dominguez Hills

Like every other opponent of Taft the past two months, Los Angeles Dorsey set it sights on stopping – or at least containing – Toreadors senior forward Anthony January as the way to win the Division I title.

But Dorsey, like the others, found out it's easier said than done.

January ripped through the Dons for 24 points and 19 rebounds to lead Taft to a second consecutive championship, and its fourth title since 2004.

It was also the Toreador's 18th straight victory. "I feel great," said January, who made 11 of 17 field goal attempts, including five thunderous dunks. "We got a 'W' and we won a championship, thank god."

January wasn't a solo act. Junior guard Kris Yanku had 14 points and seven assists, and sophomore guard Jayvonn Gentle had 10 points and eight rebounds.

But it was January – who transferred to Taft after being homeschooled his junior year – who was the difference maker just as he has been since becoming eligible in mid- December. The Toreadors are 22-2 with January in the lineup, and both losses came on consecutive days of a Christmas holiday tournament.

Taft (28-3) got out of the first quarter leading 9-4, and led 17- 8 halfway through the second quarter. But the Dons tightened their defense and ran off seven straight points to close within a basket.

Dorsey (27-8) had a chance to tie the game when junior guard Laroy Alexander took off on a breakaway layup. But Toreadors' senior guard Steven Jones swooped in from behind and blocked the shot. Taft took it the other way, and January (who might have gotten away with a travel on the play) scored to push the lead back to four, 19-15.

It didn't seem like a big play at the time, but the Dons would get no closer.

"Give Dorsey credit. They were not going to quit. It was a championship game," Taft Coach Jason Hart said. "They got here for a reason, and I respect them.

"But we were the No.1 seed. We were supposed to win." Taft did so because it owned the boards – outrebounding the Dons 45-22 – and allowed only one Dorsey player to score in double figures. Guard Kalin Barber, a senior, had 11 points but took 12 shots to get them.

Even though Dorsey was still hanging around after three quarters, 39-32, there was little doubt about the outcome after Taft went on an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter.

And when the final buzzer finally sounded, the celebration was on.

"It's always fun to go back-toback," said senior forward Brandon Perry, who contributed four points and two rebounds before fouling out. "This is different from last year because nobody thought we'd be here. But we proved everybody wrong."

"I can't put into words right now," Hart said, watching his players receive their championship medals. "I kind of expected to win this game, but it's just a great moment. They put in all the work."

Ed. Note: All four Valley teams qualified for the CIF State playoffs, which began regional play on Wednesday, March 7. Taft was seeded third in boys' Division I, and hosted Fresno Clovis West. El Camino Real was seeded eighth in boys' Division II, hosting Ontario Colony. Grant was seeded 12th in boys' Division III, traveling to Oak Park. Monroe was seeded 12th in girls' Division II, and traveled to Santa Ana Foothill.

Other City teams that qualified included the El Camino Real girls, seeded 13th in Division I. They traveled to Corona Santiago.

Other local Valley boys' teams in the playoffs included Alemany, the top seed in Division III, which hosted Bakersfield Independence; Crespi, seeded fourth in Division IV, hosted Kingsburg (CA) Kingsburg. Village Christian and Holy Martyrs Armenian are in Division V. Village Christian, in Sun Valley, was seeded fifth and hosted San Diego Jewish Academy. Holy Martyrs, in Encino, was seeded ninth and traveled to Fresno Christian.

Other local Valley girls' playoff teams included Alemany, which was seeded third in Division III and hosted Bakersfield Ridgeview. Campbell Hall and Los Angeles Baptist were seeded ninth and 12th respectively in Division IV. Campbell Hall traveled to Los Angeles Elizabeth Learning Center, and Los Angeles Baptist traveled to Bellarmine- Jefferson in Burbank. AGBU of Canoga Park was seeded 14th in Division V, and traveled to San Pedro Rolling Hills Prep.

The second round of Southern California Regional play begins Saturday, March 10. Check the cifstate.org web site for results and schedules.

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