SOUTHERN REGIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS : Division I : Poway Will Try Once Again to Beat Crenshaw

With one challenge out of the way, the Poway High School boys' basketball team faces another tonight.

The Titans, who won their first-ever state tournament game Tuesday night over Muir, 77-74, will face Crenshaw High, the defending state champion, at 7:30 tonight at Cal State Dominguez Hills in a Southern Regional Division I semifinal game. Crenshaw, the Los Angeles City 4-A champion, is 22-2. Poway is 26-3.

"Everybody is feeling pretty good about getting that first state tournament win," Poway Coach Neville Saner said. "Now, it's on to bigger and better things."

Crenshaw defeated Cleveland High, 95-79, in the Los Angeles City final Saturday night. Crenshaw had a bye in the first round of the state tournament.

The Cougars are led by 6-foot 3-inch senior guard Stephen Thompson, who was the L.A. City Player of the Year last year as a junior. Thompson, who has signed to attend at Syracuse University, scored 29 points in the Cougars' win over Cleveland and was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

To win, Poway will have to handle Crenshaw's full-court pressure. Last year, when the two teams met in the first round of the state tournament, Crenshaw's press finally wore down Poway in a 79-61 victory.

"I would hope that we'll be able to handle their pressure a little better this year," Saner said. "Last year, their press hurt us and I think we became a bit fatigued. I would like to think that we're stronger this year."

Poway is led by 6-6 forward Jud Buechler, who scored 31 points Tuesday night in the Titans' win over Muir.

"Jud's been performing especially well in these high-profile games," Saner said. "Performances like that are going to get him quite a bit of attention."

The Titans will also count on 6-6 forward Dominick Johnson to contend with Crenshaw's height advantage inside. Johnson scored 24 points and had 6 rebounds against Muir.

Crenshaw will counter with 6-8 forward Ronald Caldwell (23 points against Cleveland) and 6-2 swingman Dion Brown.

The Cougars' only two losses this season came in a preseason tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Crenshaw, which has won the last three City 4-A championships, has been the No. 1-ranked City team throughout this season.

"There's no doubt that it's another typical Crenshaw team," Saner said. "We'll have to handle their pressure to do well."

The winner will advance to the Southern Regional championships Saturday night in the Los Angeles Sports Arena against Mater Dei (29-0) or Fresno Edison (23-5), who play in the other semifinal.

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