Crenshaw Knows Way Around Mater Dei

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With 18 seconds left, Mater Dei's Tom Lippold launched a three-point attempt that stuck between the rim and backboard.

Did he want it down? Did any of the Monarchs?

Hmmm, maybe we could leave it there, everyone will go home.

If they had a choice, wouldn't they have preferred to leave it there for a while, take a moment to think, maybe figure out why?

Why, with all Mater Dei's victories and all its titles through all the years, does Los Angeles Crenshaw make this basketball factory seem ordinary? It's hardly a question that has perplexed mankind, but one that comes to mind every time the teams meet in the Southern California Regional final.

Four games, four Crenshaw victories. It's enough to make a coach wake up in a cold sweat, or one coach anyway.

Crenshaw pulled ahead in the fourth quarter for a 78-67 victory, giving the Monarchs a symmetrical finish--34-2 with loses book ending the season.

In 1986, it was a 59-57 overtime loss that Monarch Coach Gary McKnight watched from the bowels of the Los Angeles Sports Arena after being ejected.

In 1993, the dead-eye Miles Simon missed a short jumper with the score tied. Crenshaw's Kris Johnson grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup and a two-point victory.

In 1994, Clay McKnight appeared to tie the game with a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter, only to have the basket wiped out by an offensive foul. The Monarchs faded down the stretch.

This year was almost acceptable.

"We've been to the regional final eight times and four times we've advanced to the final," said Gary McKnight, who was calm, even joking afterward.

It doesn't take long to do the math. Four wins, four loses to Crenshaw.

"They are always real good," McKnight said.

And nothing Mater Dei did Saturday could overcome that fact, even when the Monarchs did things unthinkable.

Their big men, the bulky Brad Williams and 6-foot-10 Mike Vukovich, moved like ballerinas.

Lippold, a lean 6-6 junior who is difficult to see even when he isn't standing behind his coach, provided the muscle with 18 rebounds.

None of it mattered.

Crenshaw was able to handle it, and then retaliate with a 15-man rotation that pressed the Monarchs into submission. It led to yet another victory over Mater Dei.

"I don't think it's a rivalry," Crenshaw Coach Willie West said. "I think it's just two powerful teams banging their heads together."

Only it's Crenshaw that's always left standing.

"It always seems to be close games," McKnight said. "Willie does a great job and runs a fine program."

One that has a 5-1 record against the Monarchs, once you figure in Crenshaw's second-round victory in the 1983 playoffs. The Monarchs have lost only seven games to Orange County teams in 14 years.

That lone Mater Dei victory in the 1984 Tournament of Champions gets older every year. Less time is passing between each Crenshaw victory.

The why is hard to pinpoint. The when? Well, there's always next year.

"We used only two seniors this season," McKnight said. "The rest are juniors and will be back."

Yes, the Monarchs will be back. What they must wonder is whether Crenshaw be there waiting.

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