It was obvious Saturday, after Santa Clara dismantled El Monte, 57-36, at the Long Beach Arena to win the Southern Section boys' 2-A title, that the teams did not belong on the same court. And according to El Monte Coach John Gillette, they don't belong in the same division.
"How can a team that can take (5-A finalist) Mater Dei to double-overtime before losing (63-60, in the Tournament of Champions) be in the 2-A?" he said of Santa Clara following the game. "I don't want to make it sound like sour grapes, but we have to try to compete with that at the 2-A level, and it doesn't seem quite fair."
Santa Clara, which won its last 22 games, finished 27-3. El Monte finished 20-8.
"My hat goes off to them," Gillette said. They put more pressure on us than any team this year."
The pressure he spoke of came on both ends of the court. Four Santa Clara players scored in double figures, while the Saints' defensive pressure limited El Monte to its lowest point total of the season. Twice during the game El Monte went six minutes without a field goal.
"It is a picture-perfect basketball team," said Santa Clara Lou Cvijanovich , who won his ninth Southern Section basketball title. "You can't ask for a better basketball team.
"We beat a fine basketball team. They had to be good to get here. But we came to play today."
Did they ever. El Monte opened the game in a zone, and Santa Clara hit on its first six shots to take a 12-4 lead. Said Gillette after the game: "If I had it to do all over again, I would have come out with a man (defense)."
The Lions got a little better in the second quarter on defense, but their offense fell apart and they were scoreless in the final 6:06 of the half.
El Monte opened the second half in a man-to-man defense and, coupled with some hot shooting, was able to pull within 13. But just as quickly as El Monte got hot, it went flat and saw Santa Clara go on a 16-2 run to blow the game open.
James Gama led the run with 8 of his 12 points, and Nevada Las Vegas-bound Stacey Cvijanovich closed it out with a 30-footer at the end of the third quarter. Cvijanovich, the coach's son, finished with a game-high 14 points.