Playing tough defense, hustling for loose balls and displaying the unselfishness always present in a championship team, Santa Ana Mater Dei won its 31st consecutive game Saturday night, holding off scrappy Chino Hills, 48-44, in the Southern Section Open Division final at the Honda Center.
It was a wild fourth quarter, but in the end, Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei rose up and lifted his team to victory. He finished with 28 points and clinched the victory by making two free throws with 4.9 seconds left, giving him eight in a row in the fourth quarter.
"Stanley is the best," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "In the biggest game, he took us on his shoulders. He just willed that win."
Chino Hills (26-5) had gone ahead, 44-43, on a basket by K.C. Cyprian with 1:05 left. Johnson made two free throws with 26 seconds left for a 45-44 lead. A free throw by Rex Pflueger with 12.8 seconds left made it 46-44. But a Lonzo Ball shot from the baseline failed, and that was the Huskies' final chance.
In 32 years as basketball coach at Mater Dei, McKnight has had only one unbeaten team, in 1985, when the Monarchs went 29-0. This year's team is 31-0 and forcing McKnight to reevaluate just how good it truly is each time it reaches another season goal. It was the 22nd section title for McKnight.
For Johnson, the McDonald's All American headed to Arizona, all that is left is trying to win a fourth consecutive state championship. He had been struggling with his free-throw shooting but not with the game on the line. He made 13 of 16 free throws Saturday.
Mater Dei made just one of 14 shots from three-point range. The two schools engaged in a grueling defensive struggle. Mater Dei made 21 turnovers. Mater Dei shot just 31.8%. Freshman LiAngelo Ball scored 14 points for Chino Hills, which shot just 26.2% for the game.
Chino Hills went on an 11-0 run in the third quarter to wipe out a 12-point halftime deficit. Similar to what Riverside North did earlier in the week in a 15-0 third-quarter spurt against the Monarchs, Chino Hills was trapping on defense and forcing turnovers and getting its fast break going.
Mater Dei is expected to be seeded No. 1 for the Southern California Regionals in the Open Division when the state playoff pairings are released Sunday. Chino Hills will probably get to try to win a state title playing out of Division I.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times