It took Westchester High five games last week to win the Las Vegas Holiday Prep Basketball Classic and earn a national ranking.
It took Manual Arts two hours Wednesday to bring the Comets down to Earth.
Westchester returned to what Coach Ed Azzam called "the real world" by suffering its first loss of the season, 65-59, in a sloppily played non-league game at home.
The Comets (12-1), ranked No. 21 in the nation by USA Today following their impressive showing in Las Vegas, looked like anything but high rollers against Manual Arts (10-2). They scored only three points in the first quarter, blew a 13-point lead in the third quarter and saw leading scorer Zan Mason held to a paltry six points.
Azzam's only hope after the fiasco was that his players could learn from their mistakes in time for Friday night's Central League opener at Palisades.
"You never know how a team is going to come back from a loss," he said. "It is hoped that we'll come back fighting.
"We did a lot of dumb things: lane violations, going over the back, poor shot selection. We didn't play well. I didn't think Manual Arts played well, either. It was terrible."
Manual Arts Coach Reggie Morris saw the upset as an example of the parity in the L. A. City Section. He says Crenshaw, Westchester, Fairfax, Cleveland and his Toilers are capable of beating one another.
"I think any of the top five teams can be City champion," he said. "But Crenshaw has the best chance.
"Westchester has the size and the physical players to beat Crenshaw. I think we can beat Crenshaw, but it's a tough road for us because we're so small."
Manual Arts, which played without injured starting forward Andre Bouvay, made up for its height disadvantage by playing aggressive defense and making the most of shots down the stretch.
Toiler forward Chris Small scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter when Manual Arts outscored Westchester, 27-15. Small's layup with just less than a minute to play gave Manual Arts a 63-56 lead.
"Once we started to put a little more pressure on them, we caused a few more turnovers," said Morris, whose team had trailed Westchester, 42-29, late in the third quarter. "We played good, solid half-court defense."
Westchester, after falling behind 15-4 early in the second quarter, closed out the first half with a 20-4 spurt to take a 24-19 half-time lead. The Comets extended their lead in the third quarter, but things fell apart in the late going. They made only three of nine free throws in the fourth quarter and were off target from the floor as well.
"In the fourth quarter we didn't make free throws and we didn't make layups," Azzam said. "Manual Arts made theirs. That was the difference."
Point guard Sam Crawford led Westchester with 15 points, but Azzam said it was the junior's worst performance of the season. Forward Michael Brown added 12 points and 9 rebounds for the Comets.
"Sam has been our best player, but today he over-dribbled and made some bad decisions," Azzam said. "No one came in and took charge."
That included the 6-foot-7 Mason, whose six points marked his lowest scoring production of the season. The junior, named MVP of the Las Vegas tournament, had been averaging 23 points a game.
Manual Arts guard Wayne Williams, who signed early with Cal State Fullerton, supported Small with 14 points. He gave the Toilers the lead for good, 48-46, with 6:27 remaining by hitting two free throws after a Westchester player was assessed a technical foul for slapping the backboard.
Azzam couldn't complain much after tasting defeat for the first time this season.
"If someone had said we'd be 12-1 at this point, I would have said, 'Hey, that's fine.'
"There's no way we could go the whole season unbeaten. Not with the teams we play."
Beating some of the nation's top teams in Las Vegas was one thing. Taking on the best in the City could prove more challenging for Westchester.
Carson 91, Canoga Park 50--The Colts took a 34-18 half-time lead and erased all doubt by scoring 31 points in the third quarter of the runaway victory in a non-league game at Canoga Park. Six players scored in double figures, led by Rodney Bowen's 19 and Greg Lindsey's 13. Vincent Washington scored 12, Raymond Bennett 11 and Stephen Smith and Phillip Boyd 10 each. The Colts improved to 10-2 going into Pacific League play. They open Friday at home against Locke.
Inglewood 71, Lynwood 47--Inglewood tuned up for its Ocean League opener on Friday by trouncing visiting Lynwood. Junior Harold Miner led the Sentinels with 27 points and 8 rebounds. Guard Bobby Sears had 14 points and 7 assists and Tommy Holland added 16 points. The Sentinels, 7-6, blew out to a 24-9 first quarter lead and were ahead, 43-20, at half time. They'll open league play at home against Hawthorne.
Narbonne 52, San Pedro 49--The Gauchos built a 10-point lead in the second quarter, then withstood a San Pedro comeback to win a City West League game at Narbonne. Both teams are 1-1 in league play.