A little more than a year ago, people were considering the 1987-88 Crenshaw High School boys’ basketball team as maybe the best in the school’s history. After all, the Cougars had just defeated Manual Arts for the City 4-A championship, 83-67.
But they fell from their lofty place in the Cougar Hall of Fame quickly. Two weeks later, in the semifinals of the state tournament, Manual Arts bounced back and surprised Crenshaw, 89-82, in overtime.
With that defeat, Crenshaw lost its chance for a fourth state title in the last six seasons. The Toilers went on to win it.
Friday night, Crenshaw (20-2) will play Manual Arts (24-0) for the first time this season in the Reebok City 4-A title game at the Sports Arena. The Cougars will be playing for their fifth City title in the last season years.
Manual Arts has won 28 consecutive games since last season’s loss to Crenshaw in the City title game, having defeated highly regarded Westchester twice during the regular season. Last Friday night, the Toilers advanced to the City final for the second consecutive year, with a 50-44 win over Carson.
After losing an early 14-point lead against the Colts, the Toilers rallied, thanks largely to seniors William Celestine and Kent Bennett. Celestine provided two key baskets and Bennett’s spectacular dunk on a lob pass from guard Marcell Capers sparked a late fourth-quarter rally.
Carson’s plan of shutting off the inside and allowing the Toilers shots from the perimeter, proved effective, as Manual Arts failed to connect on many open jump shots. Capers, the Toilers’ junior point guard, made less than 35% of his shots from the floor, in scoring 12 points.
Manual Arts Coach Randolph Simpson said a lot of pressure will be on Capers, who played for the Cougars last season.
“Marcell will have to stay calm and let the game flow,” said Simpson, who is in his first season as coach after taking over for Reggie Morris. “The fact that he played with many of the Crenshaw players will have his emotions running high and make it tough on him. I am sure that (the Crenshaw players) feel as if he deserted them a little, and that they will want to shut him down.”
Simpson also realizes that this is just not an ordinary game because of the intensity of the Crenshaw-Manual Arts rivalry.
“The key thing for us is to stay relaxed and not let our emotions take over,” Simpson said. “Crenshaw just keeps coming with its pressure. We will have to be consistent in breaking the press and take high percentage shots.
“This is one of the biggest rivalries in the area. Most of these guys played with each other in junior high school. I feel that both teams have paid the price to be here in the finals.”
Crenshaw earned its place with a 60-47 win over Fairfax last Friday night. The Cougars trailed at halftime, 23-17, but guard Terry Cannon made 17 second-half points as they rallied in the second half.
Coach Willie West, who has won 10 City titles, is back in the final again, despite the loss of Capers and the graduation of three All-City seniors from last season’s team.
The Cougars may not have their usual height, but they do have depth. Several times against Fairfax, West substituted four or five players at once.
The Cougars also have the 6-foot-1 Cannon, who leads the team in scoring. Throughout the playoffs, the Cougars have relied on him to supply their spark. In their quarterfinal win over Westchester, Crenshaw struggled early while Cannon misfired, but once he started hitting, Crenshaw breezed and he finished with 27 points.
Said Simpson: “Crenshaw does not rebuild, it just reloads.”
In the girls’ City 4-A final, Crenshaw will play Washington for the fourth time this season. The Cougars, The Times’ top rated team throughout the season, have defeated the Generals in two of the three previous meetings.
Crenshaw beat Dorsey in the semifinals at the Sports Arena last Friday, 53-39, as senior guards Claudia (Coco) Jones and Allison Jackson, scored 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Jones has been the key for the Cougars all season. She led the Cougars against the Dons, despite missing most of the second half because of foul trouble.
“In order for us to do well, we have to have Coco in the game,” Crenshaw Coach Major Dennis said. “She has been in foul trouble throughout the playoffs, and we need her 21 points and 8 steals a game.
“Coco’s greatest asset is her defense, which also has been the source of her foul problems. We need her ability to go to the basket to set up our offense.”
Dennis said that the Cougars will have to stop Washington’s guards, Remitha Houston and Detra Lockhart. They combined for 32 points in the Generals’ 62-55 victory over Reseda in the semifinals.
“They are great offensive guards,” Dennis said. “We have to stop at least one of them or we’ll lose. We cannot have them both score 25 points. We have been successful in stopping them before and we’ll just have to do it again.”
In the last meeting between the teams, Washington played a man-to-man defense, then switched to a zone in the fourth quarter, erased an eight-point deficit and won. Washington Coach Phil Chase said that his team wore the Cougars down with the pressure defense.
“Once we went to a zone, they were not able to hit from the outside, he said. “We are a little deeper than them, so we were fresher in the fourth quarter.
“The key is to not let them get any easy shots off of turnovers. The Sports Arena is a bigger place than most high school gyms and shooting percentages usually go down. This will be a game where you have to take the playing conditions into consideration.”
Dennis agreed, but said that the importance of the game will over-ride the conditions.
“It is simple.” he said. “Whoever gets tired will get to stay home.”
In the boys’ 3-A City final, Los Angeles High (18-8) will play Fremont (26-3) Friday night. Forward Khari Jaxon scored 20 points to lead Los Angeles past Wilson, 53-39, with Kieron Mitchell adding 16. In the other semifinal game, junior Lionel Pandy scored 16 points in the Pathfinders’ 66-63 victory over El Camino Real, despite Brent Lofton’s 34 for the Conquistadores. . . . In the girls’ 3-A City semifinals, Marshall defeated Bell, 61-45, and Roosevelt defeated Canoga Park, 45-38.
In the City boys’ soccer playoffs, Belmont will play host to Bell in the semifinals today and Palisades will play San Pedro at Daniels Field in San Pedro. . . . In the girls’ semifinals, Palisades will travel to play Chatsworth today, and Grant will play San Pedro at Daniels Field Wednesday. All games start at 2:45 p.m. . . . The state basketball playoffs begin a week from today, March 7.
Friday night’s City 4-A boys’ basketball championship game will be televised by the Prime Ticket cable network Sunday at 4 p.m. . . . Saturday night’s Southern Section 5-AA boys’ basketball championship game between Santa Ana Saddleback and Long Beach Millikan at the Sports Arena will be televised by Prime Ticket Sunday at 9 p.m. . . . The state wrestling championships, to be held Saturday night at the University if Pacific in Stockton, will be on Prime Ticket Monday at 5 p.m.