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SOUTHERN SECTION BASKETBALL PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIPS : Artesia Proves Worthy of Its Reputation : Division II-A: Jones, O’Bannon lead defending champions over Woodbridge, 58-40.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It took an entire season of basketball to prove what everyone already knew. Artesia is the best team in the Southern Section Division II-A.

The Pioneers, the defending State Division II champions, made it official Saturday with a 58-40 victory over Woodbridge in the II-A final at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. The victory was convincing enough to be anticlimactic.

Only one team in California, Long Beach Poly, was able to beat Artesia (26-2). The Pioneers other loss was to DeMatha of Washington, D.C.

“It’s nice to know that with three sophomores and a junior in the starting lineup, we have a bright future,” Coach Wayne Merino said.

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Bright? It’s downright blinding.

For one half, Woodbridge (21-10) was able to provide enough reasonable doubt to keep people interested. The end, though, was inevitable.

In a three-minute span of the third quarter, Avondre Jones, the Pioneers’ 6-foot-11 sophomore center, made his presence felt. He scored eight consecutive points to give Artesia a 38-27 lead.

“That’s when we broke it open,” Merino said. “We’re a much better team when Avondre is in the game. He’s our enforcer.”

Jones spent most of the first half in foul trouble. He picked up his third with 2 minutes 10 seconds left in the second quarter and had only three points at halftime.

But Jones got the Pioneers off to a good start in the second half with a 5-foot jumper from the lane to give them a 32-25 lead. He followed that with a layup off an offensive rebound, another 5-footer from the key and a jump hook along the base line.

Woodbridge never recovered from that onslaught.

“I had to make up for all that time I was on the bench in the first half,” Jones said.

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He made six of seven shots and scored 13 points before fouling out with 2:45 left. Jones also had 12 rebounds, as the Pioneers dominated the inside play.

Artesia held a 51-37 rebounding advantage and often got second and third shots. In fact, during one sequence early in the third quarter, the Pioneers got five offensive rebounds, which finally resulted in a layup by Jones.

Charles O’Bannon, also a sophomore, led the team with 13 rebounds. He scored 12 points.

The Pioneers led by 15 at the end of the third quarter, 44-29, and the Warriors never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.

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“We told our kids not to be fans, but students of the game,” Woodbridge Coach Bill Shannon said. “There had been a lot written about Artesia, but we wanted our kids to come out and play solid basketball. We wanted them to do their best.”


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