Two years ago, the Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team had to go through Mission Prep in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA semifinals before eventually capturing its first-ever championship.
So far, this postseason has played out similar to 2011 with Prep posting dominant victories at home in the first and quarterfinal rounds, on the road in the second round and hosting Mission Prep at La Cañada High in the semis.
“It’s actually shaped up exactly how it did two years ago,” Flintridge Prep guard Robert Cartwright said. “It’s almost a deja vu-type thing, but that doesn’t mean anything. They’re going to try and get some revenge on us. We just have to come out, play hard and hopefully get the victory and go onto the CIF championship.”
The second-seeded Rebels (22-5) will need to knock off the No. 3 Royals (22-7) to advance to their second Division V-AA title game in three years.
“They kind of know what to expect from us and we generally know what to expect from them,” Cartwright said. “It’s going to be a very physical, tough game. We have to bring it from the beginning if we want to win.”
Flintridge Prep has defeated Mission Prep in its last three meetings since 2011. There was a 77-61 win in the regular season before the 86-72 victory about two months later in the semifinals two years ago. The Rebels will look to repeat that feat after knocking off the Royals, 61-47, on Jan. 19 this season.
“They’re strong kids, a few of them play football and we noticed how strong they were when we played against them the first time,” Flintridge Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said. “It should be a good battle; I don’t think there’s an advantage or disadvantage to having played them already.”
This year’s regular season meeting between the semifinal opponents wasn’t quite a true sample. The Royals were without 6-foot-5 forward Connor Woolpert, who’s nearly averaging a double-double this postseason.
Cartwright is leading the Rebels, averaging 23 points a game these playoffs, while center Kareem Ismail has put up 12 points and 8.3 boards a game in the last three games.
Flintridge Prep has plenty of other weapons at its disposal with hustle-forward Chadd Cosse, pin-point shooter Jedrick Eugenio and speedy guard Kyle Hamane rounding out the starting lineup. The Rebels also have a deep bench that includes Tyler Weakland, Andrew Tsangeos and Harrison Jung.
“I do like our bench, they can come in and contribute and give us a lift on both ends, offensively or defensively,” Ohara said. “If we need to go smaller or take advantage of something, this team has those interchangeable parts. We try to exploit whatever we can.”
The Royals have three players averaging double-digit scoring in the playoffs, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Cartwright, a defensive stopper, figures to match up with Mission point guard Andy Rowley, who’s averaging 13.7 points in the playoffs. Sophomore guard Quinton Adlesh has put up 14.3 points a contest in CIF, while Woolpert (11.7 points, 8.3 rebounds) and Ismail are set to clash down low.
“We know going over the tape what we can do defensively, and it’s more of the mind set of being able to match their physicality and not being passive,” Ohara said. “We need to be aggressive and match their aggressiveness, too. You don’t want them to dictate things out there.”
Flintridge Prep, the No. 2 seed, hasn’t had any close calls with all of their postseason victories coming by at least 20 points.
Third-seeded Mission Prep has posted a few comfortable victories over Wildwood (80-44), Webb (57-49) and Saddleback Valley Christian (54-48) en route to the semifinals. The Royals did struggle with Prep League’s Webb, a team the Rebels defeated by at least 19 points twice this year, in the second round.
“It will be a real big test for us Friday night to see if we’re really going to do this and win the CIF championship,” Cartwright said. “I think we are playing very well, that could change, but I think we’ll be all right.”