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Westchester Still Team to Beat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Westchester High faced one of its biggest regular-season City Section tests Friday against upstart Los Angeles.

The Comets proved they are still the team to beat with a closer-than-it-looked 87-70 Coastal Conference victory over the Romans at L.A. High.

The game offered several revelations, all of which figure to have an impact on defending champion Crenshaw, Fremont, Fairfax, Manual Arts and other teams hoping to keep Westchester from completing a run to the City--and possibly state--championship:

* For all of its reputed offensive firepower, Westchester can play defense. The Comets won the game by turning several steals into baskets after three-point-crazy L.A. High had pulled to within 72-65 with 4:30 left.

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* Westchester’s Chris Osborne, a 6-foot-8 junior, is becoming an impact player. Against L.A. High, he had 13 points, demonstrated strong post moves and rebounded and defended aggressively without fouling.

* The only task more difficult than an eventual playoff matchup against Westchester might be trying to control L.A. High forward Deon “Popeye” Green. The 6-4 senior continued an outstanding season by scoring 41 points with an effort that almost single-handedly kept the Romans in the game.

“I just tried to put the team on my back and do the job,” Green said. "[Westchester] is tough. They deserve to stay on top until somebody beats them.”

City foes have a difficult task ahead. Westchester (19-3), bolstered by transfers Osborne, forward David Bluthenthal and point guard Brandon Granville, lost twice to out-of-state teams during a tournament in Las Vegas. Its only loss to a team from Southern California came against two-time defending Division II state champion Compton Dominguez in the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Challenge two weeks ago.

Against Dominguez, however, Westchester forward Tony Bland was still nursing a leg injury. The Syracuse-bound senior is back to full strength and it showed against L.A. High (15-5).

He scored the Comets’ first 11 points on three consecutive three-point shots and a layup off an assist from Granville. Teammate Albert Miller added two baskets before Bland made a short jump shot from the left side to give Westchester a 17-11 lead.

“We just played off what they said earlier this week about how they couldn’t wait to play us,” said Bland, who finished with 21 points. “We thought we could wear them down with our size and strength.”

The Comets led, 51-37, at halftime and, 68-57, at the end of the third quarter, while L.A. High guard Leroy Dawson struggled to find his shot. Dawson, a junior, made seven three-pointers and scored 31 points last Friday in a victory over then 17-2 Manual Arts. He had 20 points against Westchester, but misfired on open shots in the first half and was pressured into hurried shots by Westchester guards throughout the second.

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“I should have taken it to the rack more,” Dawson said. “If I was on, we would have been in it.”

Dawson did score the Romans’ first five points of the fourth quarter, and Green added two free throws to pull L.A. High to within 72-65 with 4:30 left.

But after a timeout, Westchester’s Miller scored two of his 21 points off a steal, and Osborne converted another Comet steal into a basket to push the lead back to 11 points.

“We’re just now coming together,” said Granville, who scored 10 points. “We’re playing well defensively, but we have to run our offense better.

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“We have to prepare every night because beating us is going to make somebody’s season.”


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