Those who predicted that Mater Dei High School would become the best boys’ basketball team in Orange County by the end of January may have been a month off.
Mater Dei (7-3) continued to show improvement since its disappointing performance in the Trabuco Hills tournament two weeks ago, defeating Laguna Beach, 83-51, Wednesday in the Orange Holiday Tournament at Chapman College’s Hutton Sports Center.
The Monarchs rolled to their fifth victory in the past six games.
Granted, the game matched the smallest public high school in the county against the best collection of all-stars this side of Artesia High.
And, of course, Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight did his best to downplay his team’s victory, even calling a timeout early in the first quarter with the Monarchs leading, 9-2, to scold his team for a few defensive lapses.
Afterward, McKnight said the Monarchs have improved because of better perimeter shooting by guards J.J. Ballesteros, Reggie Geary and DeJuan Matthews and the inside play of center Terence Wilborn.
“Earlier, we were thinking instead of reacting,” McKnight said. “When we lost two games at Trabuco Hills, I couldn’t walk the streets of Mission Viejo without someone asking me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I can only use the excuse of inexperience for so long.”
Laguna Beach (5-4) managed to keep the game respectable by making five three-point shots, but the Artists’ top player, Josh Borrella, was never a factor.
Borrella picked up his fourth foul with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter and his team trailing, 49-30. He fouled out with 5:40 left to play, finishing with 12 points, 16 below his season average.
Mater Dei forward Jason Janeski was the benefactor of some fine passes by Geary and point guard Kamran Sufi, converting layups for most of his 22 points. Janeski had 20 points in the first half and missed only one shot.
Wilborn has played the biggest role in Mater Dei’s turnaround. He had 13 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday night.
“Terence has given us a lift,” McKnight said. “Every game, he gains more confidence.”
In other tournament games:
Capistrano Valley 76, Carlsbad 41--Center Brett McCorkle scored 25 points and had 16 rebounds to lead Capistrano Valley (11-1). McCorkle had 17 points in the first half as the Cougars built a 37-20 lead.
San Diego Morse 92, Saddleback 88 (OT)--Forwards Darnell Cherry and Maurice Vickers scored four points each in the three-minute overtime period to lead San Diego Morse.
Orange 70, Orange Lutheran 53--Three-year starting guard Carlos Duran scored 19 points and teammate Thu Huynh added 18 for Orange.
Kennedy 65, Long Beach Wilson 60--Junior center Jermaine Galloway scored 26 points and guard Brian Cline added 17 to lead Kennedy.
Santa Clara 56, Fountain Valley 38--Junior forward Isiah Mustafa scored 20 points to lead Santa Clara (11-2).