There is never a lack of drama around Chino Hills High basketball. Back in the fall, when LaVar Ball huffed and puffed and pulled his son LaMelo from school, there were some figuring it was the end of the Huskies' run as a basketball power. Ofure Ujadughele and his teammates begged to differ.
"Everybody doubted us with LaMelo leaving," he said. "No one believed in us. We proved them wrong."
Chino Hills is headed back to Sacramento to play for a state championship after a 67-51 victory over Bellflower St. John Bosco on Saturday in the Southern California Division I regional final at Long Beach State. The Huskies trailed by nine points going into the fourth quarter, then outscored St. John Bosco 27-2. The Braves went one for 23 shooting over an extraordinary eight-minute period.
"It was great resilience for our team," coach Dennis Latimore said.
St. John Bosco (25-8) did the best job any team has done containing 6-foot-9 Onyeka Okongwu, who was averaging 28.6 points. Using a 2-3 zone, the Braves limited him to four shots and five points at halftime when they led 42-34. It wasn't much different after three quarters and a 49-40 lead.
But Andre Ball, who scored 32 points, and Ujadughele, who had 20 points, started making shots, and Okongwu began to dominate in the rebound department as St. John Bosco shots missed their mark again and again. Okongwu finished with 12 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.
"Give Bosco credit," Latimore said. "Unbelievable defense. We needed other guys to step up."
Ball, the cousin of the Ball brothers Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo, is finally healthy after three years of dealing with injuries. He made five of seven shots from three-point range.
Christian James led St. John Bosco with 13 points and Jonathan Salazar contributed 15 rebounds. St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn said he blamed himself for not being able to guide his team through the fourth quarter.
"For three quarters, we did a great job controlling the game and utilizing our strength," Dunn said.
Then came the fourth quarter, and the Braves collapsed.
Chino Hills is 25-11. It's been an up and down season adjusting to Latimore, a first-year coach who made the team's focus getting the ball to Okongwu, who was a starter as a freshman on the 35-0 state championship team in 2015-16. By showing it can win without Okongwu being the center of offensive attention, the Huskies proved how far they have come.
"I just believe in my teammates," Ujadughele said.
Chino Hills will play Walnut Creek Las Lomas in Division I final next weekend at Golden 1 Center.