Collins, Harvard Remain on Target

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The proper finishing touch is a must for the Harvard-Westlake High basketball team. For a game. For the season.

So, who better than Jason Collins to deliver the breakaway dunk in the closing seconds and provide an exclamation point to Harvard's 74-57 victory over Bishop Montgomery in a Division III Southern California Regional semifinal game Thursday night at Harvard?

Well, there was point guard Leo Da Costa, who stood beneath the basket with Collins as the 6-foot-11 junior center gathered in a court-length lob.

Collins clutched the ball, paused and offered Da Costa a smile. But he wasn't about to improvise.

Collins capped the victory with a thunderous two-hand dunk that delighted a partisan crowd that spent most of the contest standing.

"I was like, 'Lob it to me. I'll throw it back to you off the backboard,' " Da Costa said. "We talked about it right before it happened. He said, 'Naw, let's finish it.' "

Harvard (28-2) isn't finished. The Wolverines will play San Diego University High, a 71-59 winner over Muir, for the regional championship Saturday at the Pond in Anaheim.

A victory, and the Wolverines will advance to the State final the following week in Sacramento, something Harvard failed to accomplish last season by losing at Anaheim to Artesia in the Southern California final.

Hence, this season's goal was nothing short of reaching the State final and winning it.

"We didn't just want to repeat what we did last year," Harvard Coach Greg Hilliard said. "We wanted to go one step beyond. We want to go the the State [final], and as long as we're there, we might as well go ahead and win it."

Harvard, whose two defeats came during East Coast tournaments in December, might be peaking. That is, if Collins' performance Thursday is any indication.

Collins, battling double- and triple-team coverage, muscled inside to score a game-high 28 points. He also led all players with 15 rebounds.

When covered, Collins did a good job of finding an open teammate.

Jarron Collins scored 10 points to go with 10 rebounds. Guard Ryan Smiley scored 10.

"Everything is working right now," Smiley said.

Senior forward Alex Gelbard, who scored nine points, agreed.

"We just beat a really good team by more than 10 points," Gelbard said. "And that's because we had more than five guys contributing. This team performs as a team."

Bishop Montgomery (25-5) provided a formidable challenge from the start. The Knights never led, but did not trail by as many as 10 points until Jason Collins began the third quarter by scoring five consecutive points to give Harvard a 35-21 lead.

Forward Brandon Price, a Santa Clara recruit, and guard Michael Johnson shuffled sharp perimeter shooting with effective penetration to keep the Knights close.

Price scored a team-high 19 and Johnson had 14.

But Jason Collins was unstoppable when Harvard needed a basket. He scored 11 points in the third quarter, when Harvard stretched its lead to 51-33.

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