The Mater Dei High School basketball team has built quite a reputation in Southern California, having won three Southern Section championships in the past four years, but it seems folks around these parts haven't heard much about the Monarchs.
A Pine Bluff disc jockey, previewing Wednesday night's King Cotton Tournament games on the radio, said Whitehaven High of Memphis, Tenn. would be playing Modder Daya of California.
Toward the end of the preceding game, the public address announcer in the Pine Bluff Convention Center asked that the scorekeeper from Modder Dah report to the table.
Come game time, the PA guy finally got it right and announced the starting lineup for Mater Dei .
Then, the Monarchs went out and showed the crowd of 3,000 exactly who they were as they defeated Whitehaven, 49-47, in overtime.
Mater Dei forward Kevin Rembert, suffering through a miserable game, followed a LeRon Ellis miss with a layup with six seconds remaining for the only points of the three-minute overtime period.
Ezell Calvin's 25-foot, running shot at the buzzer sailed over the backboard, securing Mater Dei's berth in Friday's semifinals, where the Monarchs (11-0 and ranked ninth in the nation by USA Today) will meet 14th-ranked Hialeah Miami Lakes High of Hialeah, Fla.
Rembert provided the happy ending Wednesday night, but Ellis was the show. A 6-foot 11-inch senior who is headed for the University of Kentucky, Ellis scored a game-high 32 points, including all of his team's 15 points in the first period, and had six rebounds and five steals.
Ellis also blocked two shots in crucial situations for the Monarchs in the fourth quarter.
Mater Dei, finally feeling the effects of its seven-hour trip to Arkansas Wednesday, had blown a nine-point third-quarter lead when the Tigers went on a 16-2 run, which gave Whitehaven a 43-38 advantage with 6:36 left in the fourth.
But Mike Hopkins' three-point play pulled the Monarchs to within two and Ellis then blocked Clyde Fletcher's inside shot and scored on a short jumper at the other end to tie it, 43-43.
After a Fletcher dunk and Ellis' two free throws, Mater Dei went ahead, 47-45, on a Rembert follow shot with 3:06 left. Several turnovers and missed shots later, Whitehaven's Calvin made a jump shot from the top of the key with 21 seconds left to tie the score, 47-47.
The Monarchs failed to work the ball inside for a good shot in the final seconds but nearly won the game when Chris Patton recovered an errant pass, turned and launched a one-handed shot from 30 feet that hit the backboard, the front of the rim, the backboard again and bounced out at the buzzer.
Key plays in overtime were Whitehaven's Anthonie Lee missing the front end of a one-and-one with 1:57 left, the referee's nullifying Ernest Smith's tip-in because of offensive goal-tending with 1:52 to go and Rembert's turnover with 1:22 left.
Whitehaven, employing a spread offense, then knocked more than a minute off the clock, but Calvin, guarded by Patton, was called for a five-second violation and turned the ball over to the Monarchs with 16 seconds left.
Hopkins took the in-bounds pass and got the ball inside to Ellis, who missed from the right baseline. But Rembert, in one motion, grabbed the rebound and put it back in for the game-winner.
"I didn't play a great game, but it helped to win it like that," said Rembert, who made only 3 of 10 shots and made two critical turnovers late in the game. "I don't know if I was tired or if it was the flight that affected me."
The Monarchs showed no signs of jet lag in the first half, as they broke the Tiger press and got out to a 30-23 lead. Ellis dominated the first period, scoring twice on alley-oop passes from Rembert. He also scored on a reverse layup off of Patton's alley-oop pass in the second quarter.
But Mater Dei wilted under Whitehaven's pressure in the third quarter, turning the ball over five times and losing a big lead. They recovered just in time to win it.
"I thought we'd keep that nine-point lead in the third quarter, but we got sluggish," Monarch Coach Gary McKnight said. "It looked like we were playing in slow-motion, especially on the press break."
King Cotton Notes:
Flint Hill Prep of Oakton, Va., the nation's No. 1 team according to USA Today, advanced to the semifinals with a 64-62 victory over Hall High of Little Rock. Sophomore Aaron Bain scored 28 points, and senior Dennis Scott, considered the top unsigned recruit in the nation, added 24 points, including a jumper and two free throws in the final 40 seconds to give the Falcons a 64-60 lead. . . . Scott and Mater Dei's LeRon Ellis are considered the best big men in the tournament, but the 12-team field also is loaded with some of the best high school guards in the nation. Christian Brothers High of Lincroft, N.J., features 6-2 senior John Crotty, who has made a verbal commitment to the University of Virginia. Crotty, named the top guard in the nation by Street and Smith Magazine, scored 19 points, including 15 of 18 free throws, to help Christian Brothers to a 68-58 quarterfinal win over Booker T. Washington High of Tulsa, Okla. Hialeah Miami Lakes guard Chris Corchiani, son of Trojan Coach Gabe Corchiani, scored 22 points, including six in overtime, to lead the Trojans to a 55-52 win over Henry Clay High of Lexington, Ky. Corchiani has signed a letter of intent with North Carolina State. Sean Sutton, son of University of Kentucky Coach Eddie Sutton, scored 18 points for Henry Clay. Sutton has signed with Kentucky. Rodney Peel scored 28 points for Hall High in the Warriors' loss to Flint Hill. He teams with Jimmy Hinton, a master of the no-look pass, to give Hall one of the best guard tandems in the nation. . . . Ronny Thompson, a starting guard for Flint Hill, is the son of Georgetown Coach John Thompson. . . . Among the spectators in Wednesday night's crowd was Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins, who was on hand to watch Flint Hill's Scott.