He Shoots Below Par at Pauley

Times Staff Writer

LeBron James is going to endure his share of hiccups before attempting to make a jump to the NBA. Not every performance is going to be the breathless, made-for-the-highlight-reel display that has prompted NBA scouts to follow his every move.

Nevertheless, a below-the-stratosphere performance from James is often good enough for his Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary High teammates.

That was the case Saturday, when James scored a ho-hum 21 points during St. Vincent-St. Mary's 64-58 victory over Santa Ana Mater Dei in the Pangos Dream Classic before a sold out crowd at Pauley Pavilion.

James was averaging 27 points a game.

James made eight of 24 shots from the field and converted only one spectacular move: a between-the-legs assist on a fast break to trailing teammate Romeo Travis, who took the ball and slammed it on a ferocious two-handed dunk. James missed all nine of his three-point attempts and committed seven turnovers.

But he grabbed nine rebounds, made all five of his free throws, had seven assists and blocked three shots.

James' assessment?

"I think I played well," said the player who is expected to be selected No. 1 in the June NBA draft. "I did enough to help my team win."

Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight and his players did not stick around to deliver their appraisal of the 6-foot-7 swingman. The Monarchs left shortly afterward, skipping the postgame news conference.

Wesley Washington led Mater Dei with 18 points and Marcel Jones added 14.

Mater Dei (15-2) trailed for much of the game, taking only two brief two-point first-half leads against St. Vincent-St. Mary (8-0), ranked No. 1 in one national poll.

The Monarchs, ranked fifth nationally, became the third top-10 team to fall to the Fighting Irish in the last three weeks.

James said he hoped St. Vincent-St. Mary would be a consensus national No. 1 when the new polls are released this week.

Mater Dei, which trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half, trimmed its deficit to six on Jones' three-point basket with under a minute remaining. Irish guard Corey Jones then stepped out of bounds, giving the ball to the Monarchs.

But forward D.J. Strawberry missed a jump shot and Jones converted two free throws with 15 seconds remaining to secure the victory. Free throws were a big factor in the outcome -- St. Vincent-St. Mary converted 19 of 22 attempts and Mater Dei made only nine of 17.

Neither team shot particularly well. The Irish converted 37% of their shots and the Monarchs made 39%.

"They made it so we didn't shoot very well, but I applaud my guys because we still won," St. Vincent-St. Mary Coach Dru Joyce said. "It wasn't great but we'll take it."

Strawberry played admirable defense on James but committed five turnovers and struggled from the field, making only three of 11 shots.

James said he got plenty of open shots but couldn't convert.

"Most of my shots went in and out," James said. "I think the stroke was there, it just wasn't going in."

It was James' second performance on national television. In his first, he had 31 points against Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy, then the No. 1 team in the nation. This performance wasn't as memorable.

Said Joyce: "Every night you're not going to shoot the ball well. But he still did some things well. He rebounded and blocked shots."

In this game, that was enough.

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