Willie West, the Los Angeles Crenshaw boys' basketball coach who has made it his business to ruin the playoff hopes of Mater Dei year in and year out, had a luxury at his fingertips Saturday night the Monarchs just couldn't match.
West sent wave after wave of Cougar players into the lineup, wearing down the paper-thin Monarchs in a somewhat surprising 78-67 victory in the Southern California Regional Division I final in front of an announced crowd of 8,111 at the Pond.
Surprising in that these teams usually finish their games against each other in the final seconds, not in the third quarter, as happened Saturday night.
Surprising because West used 15 players, led by guard Alastair Faux, who scored 21 points, and there wasn't much of a drop between one wave of substitutes to the next.
Surprising because the Cougars did something no other team did all year to Mater Dei: Held the Monarchs scoreless from three-point land.
And, then, maybe not so surprising: Mater Dei has not defeated the Cougars since 1984 and has lost all five games it has played against Crenshaw in Southern California regional action.
This time, West and Co. did it by overwhelming the Monarchs with fresh players. Even a zone defense, rarely seen at Mater Dei, couldn't buy the Monarchs' eight-man rotation extra rest.
"We hoped to make it a half-court game," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "We went to a zone, hoping to save our legs, but by the third quarter the fatigue factor really set in."
The numbers support McKnight.
Statistically, the Monarchs didn't do all that badly. Mater Dei made 26 of 52 field-goal attempts, out-rebounded Crenshaw, 36-26, and held their own at the free-throw line after a disastrous effort against Los Angeles Freemont in the semifinals.
But they committed 21 turnovers, one of their highest totals in their 34-game winning streak, which came to a sudden stop Saturday. The Monarchs (34-2) lost their opener in December to Mouth of Wilson, (Va.) Oak Hill Academy.
Most of those turnovers were the result of being just plain tired, working against Crenshaw's alternating zone and man-to-man press.
"The way we use defensive pressure, we do have to use a lot of players," West said. "I think the fatigue factor set in in that third quarter."
Crenshaw (28-5) will be seeking its seventh state title, when it plays Concord De La Salle, the Northern California champion. De La Salle defeated Carmichael Jesuit, 48-47, Saturday night.
Mater Dei, the defending state champion, is left to wonder the what-ifs.
"If you had told me back in the beginning of the year after we lost to Oak Hill that we would win our next 34 and be here, I would have taken it," McKnight said.
For more than a half, the Monarchs, indeed, looked as if they were going to take it, despite playing sluggishly in the first and third quarters.
Although they fell behind several times by as many as six points, the Monarchs found ways to rally in the first half.
The Monarchs trailed, 28-22, with 6 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter, but outscored the Cougars, 18-9, to take a 40-35 lead with 42 seconds left in the half. A big factor in the run was forward Tom Lippold, who scored 16 of his game-high 26 points and grabbed nine of his game-high 18 rebounds in the first half.
They even did it without starting guard David Castleton, who picked up his third foul with 6 minutes 53 seconds left in the second quarter.
Castleton appeared crucial to Mater Dei's hopes as the third quarter began. He scored his first basket about a minute into the quarter, then his jumper with 2:51 left tied the score, 51-51.
But while Castleton appeared fresh, his teammates were running out of gas.
A basket by forward Derrick Anderson with about two minutes left in the third, put Crenshaw up, 53-51, and Mater Dei was on a slow slide to next season.
Crenshaw closed the quarter by outscoring the Monarchs, 10-5.
It got sloppy after that. Mater Dei came within four points with 3:39 left, but then Mater Dei committed five crucial turnovers down the stretch.
Crenshaw guard Kevin Bradley made seven of eight free throws in the final 1:13 seconds to ice the victory.