Santa Clara Remains on a Roll in Playoffs : Basketball: Saints take nothing for granted as they seek state title.


It's hard to imagine Santa Clara High basketball Coach Lou Cvijanovich still having sleepless nights. But even after 32 years of coaching and numerous championship teams, the venerable Cvijanovich still lets his imagination get the better of him.

Take Friday night. Less than 12 hours before the top-seeded Saints were to meet Verbum Dei for the Southern Section 2-AA Division championship, Cvijanovich lay wide awake in the wee hours.

What was there to worry about?

Santa Clara (23-0), defending Southern Section and State Division IV champions, had won 40 consecutive games and rarely had been challenged this season. The Saints had outscored their opponents by an average of 22 points during the playoffs. Verbum Dei, on the other hand, had emerged from a weak field with a record of 14-12.

But winning high school coaches know records and statistics don't mean much.

"You have to remember these are just kids. These are high school kids," Cvijanovich said. "This Verbum Dei team had me really worried. All of these things kept going through my head. Getting to sleep was really tough. I had so many things I was mulling over. I guess the more you wonder, the more worried you make yourself."

As is usually the case with Cvijanovich, 63, the worrying was unnecessary. The heavily favored Saints beat up on Verbum Dei, 76-48, at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. They jumped to a 16-2 lead in the early moments and held a commanding 38-18 advantage at halftime. They led the game in every statistical category, including a 53-31 lead in rebounds.

"We came to play today," said Cvijanovich, who improved to 11-1 in Southern Section finals. "We played as good as we ever have in a championship game . . .

"If we play like this again, I think we have a good chance of repeating our state title. But like I said before, these are high school kids, and anything can happen."

The Saints appear well on their way to a second consecutive State Division IV title after being named the top-seeded team in the Southern California regional. They won their first-round game Tuesday against San Diego Imperial, 67-37, and play host tonight to Laguna Beach, a 71-37 over Coronado in the first round. The winner advances to the regional championship Saturday.

Anyone who has followed Santa Clara the past two seasons knows much of its success can be attributed to All-American guard Shon Tarver. The 6-foot-5 senior was the State Division IV Player of the Year as a junior. He should have little trouble repeating the honor after averaging 32 points a game this season. Against Verbum Dei he scored 31 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in three quarters.

Tarver is the only Saint to average in double figures scoring, and the Saints have dominated 2-AA play with a starting lineup that includes two underclassmen--junior guard Anthony Maestas and sophomore guard-forward Chris Cole.

The 6-foot-4 Cole scored eight points and had nine rebounds Friday. Sophomore forward Stevie Amar also saw considerable playing time in the Southern Section title game, finishing with four points and seven rebounds. Senior guard Bruce Howarth added 12 points.

Tarver was the only returning player this year with any varsity experience, so Cvijanovich will welcome a more experienced group next season.

Does that mean Santa Clara, which has 750 students, will consider jumping to a higher division?

"In retrospect, last year and this year we probably could've played in a higher division," Cvijanovich said. "But I think our luck in talent has been more of an exception that a rule.

"High school sports is for the kids, and you hate to put a price on winning. That's not what the game is supposed to be all about. We've been competing where we're supposed to be at, and we've done well. But there's never any guarantees that will last."

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