When the Lincoln Hornets take the court at Cal State Dominguez Hills at 8:30 tonight for the Southern California Boys' Division IV Regional basketball championship, it will notice some vaguely familiar faces.
The five starters for Oxnard Santa Clara will be the same five guys who started and played most of last year's championship game. They are the same five guys who walked away with a 68-55 victory and sent Lincoln home empty-handed.
Does Lincoln remember them?
"Oh, yeah," said senior forward Berry Randle. "I've been thinking about them since the season started. We want revenge. We weren't playing our best at all (in last year's game)."
Revenge could be difficult to come by. Santa Clara's strategy represents the antithesis of Lincoln's.
While Lincoln turns basketball into a track meet and tries to push the score into the 80s, Santa Clara tries to turn it into a chess match and keep each team's score below 60.
Lincoln feels that if it can run enough, it has a good chance at winning.
The Hornets are not just theorizing, either. Three times this year, Santa Clara (27-3) allowed an opponent to score over 60 points. Twice it lost.
The Saints lost to North Hollywood, 64-57, early in the season. They fell to Capistrano Valley, 61-45, later in the season. In the Southern Section playoffs, they beat St. Anthony's, 62-60.
Lincoln actually would like to push the score even higher. The Hornets scored under 70 points 10 times during the season, winning only two of those games.
"We're going to do everything we can to make (the Saints) run up and down the floor with us," Loneski said.
If the Hornets are not at least suited for the up-tempo game, they are limited to it by their size. Their biggest player, senior forward Berry Randle, stands only 6 feet 4. Their remaining four starters include: senior forward Akili Smith (6-3), and guards Hosa Baker (6-0), Archie Robinson (5-7) and Dennis Washington (5-7).
The Hornets average 83 points per game, but have no one player who regularly scores in the 20s.
Randle is the leading scorer, averaging 17 per game. The only others in double figures are Baker (15.2) and Robinson (10.8).
Randle has compiled several other impressive statistics: 425 rebounds, 108 steals, 122 assists and 165 blocks.
"I'm a senior this year," Randle said. "I can't just sit back and watch. I have to be a doer."
Randle compared his season to his junior year in which his performance tailed off as the season progressed.
"I don't know what happened to me last year," Randle continued. "But I kind of slacked off."
Which would be an appropriate description of the entire team's play in the Southern California championship game.
"We got in a real slowdown game with them," Loneski remembered. "And we did a bunch of real dumb things. There was no intensity. We weren't fired up, but this year you're going to see a different Lincoln team."
Loneski and his players feel they are a better team this year, returning everybody except center Steve Edens and guard John Akridge, who led Lincoln with 13 against Santa Clara in 1991.
But the Saints, too, feel they are a better team. As evidence they offer all five starters returning from last year's team:
Senior Stevie Amar, a 6-4 center who averages 16 points; senior Isaiah Mustafa, a 6-3 forward who averages 13 points; senior Art Barron, a 6-0 guard who averages 10 a game (he scored 23 points and hit four three pointers in Santa Clara's 64-52 semifinal victory over Serra); 6-4 senior Chris Cole, a 6-4 guard-forward who averages nine per game; and senior Chris Macias, a 6-foot guard.