Santa Margarita Starts Quickly, but Falters

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was no surprise that Compton Dominguez easily handled Santa Margarita, 75-53, Thursday in the Division II semifinals of the Southern California Regional boys' basketball playoffs.

Nor was the margin of victory an eye-opener. The Dons (32-2), the top-ranked team in the state and No. 6 nationally, are riding a 29-game winning streak and have beaten opponents in the section and regional playoffs by an average of 32 points.

But Santa Margarita, which won the section Division II-AA title last week and saw its season conclude at 24-7, has nothing to be disheartened about. The Eagles actually made a game of it most of the night, leading most of the first quarter and getting as close as 10, 34-24, early in the third.

"Was I surprised at how they played? No," Dominguez Coach Russell Otis said. "Listen, they were a [section] champion. We knew they were good and could shoot the ball. I expected this kind of game."

But like most who have come up against Dominguez this season, Santa Margarita was beaten by the better team, starting with forward Jason Thomas--a game-high 28 points--and ending with guard Kenny Brunner, who had 13 points and eight assists.

Allen Krist scored 21 for Santa Margarita, and Dennis Keane added 15. But Keane, hounded by 6-foot-8 sophomore Tayshun Prince most of the game, was kept scoreless in the pivotal second quarter when the Dons outscored the Eagles, 18-6, and were in control at halftime, 34-19.

In fact all the Eagles except Krist were held scoreless in the second quarter.

"When we started out kind of hot," said Keane, reflecting on the Eagles' 11-7, first-quarter lead," I thought we might have a chance to stay close. But we knew we had to play like that the whole game; and we just couldn't keep up.

"But every one of us thought we were a good team. We were going to play as hard as we could."

The Eagles, whose nine-game winning streak was snapped, did their best to hang in, but could not slow the Dons' devastating transition game. A steal here, a rebound there, and a Dominguez player--often Thomas--was off and running for a dunk or an easy layin. Dominguez scored 26 points on transition baskets.

The Dons' defensive pressure, in particular their half-court trap, flustered the Eagles into 16 turnovers. Dominguez also ruled the rebounds, 30-21.

Keane was left to reflect on himself and Santa Margarita's other eight seniors, who have been playing with or against each other since the sixth grade.

"We went through a lot of adversity this year," Keane said. "We won the [section], which was our goal. We had a great year. High school has been the greatest four years for me, but now I guess we'll all move on."

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