Westchester, Ariza Rise to Challenge

Times Staff Writer

Playing with fire, flair and unyielding focus, 6-foot-8 Trevor Ariza of Westchester High scored 30 points Saturday night to lead the Comets to their second consecutive state Division I boys' basketball championship with a 73-63 victory over Oakland Tech before 7,015 at Arco Arena.

Ariza dominated above the basket, thoroughly outplaying 6-8 McDonald's All-American Leon Powe of Oakland Tech and entertaining the crowd with dunks and athleticism usually reserved for NBA games.

"He's one of the best players we've ever had because he's so versatile," Westchester Coach Ed Azzam said.

There was much to celebrate for the Comets, who were not talked about as a state title contender when the season began. But their ability to shut down teams from scoring made them a team on the rise, and they never stopped improving.

"I'm so happy with this group," Azzam said. "They played as well together as any team I've had. They've shown a lot of heart."

The game was a rematch of last year's final, won by Westchester, 80-75.

Westchester (32-3) put together a 20-1 surge during an eight-minute stretch of the second and third quarters Saturday to wipe out a 10-point deficit and take the lead for good.

Ariza scored 21 of his points in the second half. He started going inside and challenging the Bulldogs.

"I took my time more and wasn't so anxious," Ariza said. "I'm so proud of my teammates. We worked hard for this every day in practice."

Oakland Tech (23-6) led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter. The Bulldogs forced six quick turnovers with their full-court press. And Azzam was forced to sit Ariza and guard Jonathan Tolliver after each picked up three fouls.

But the Comets rallied behind their smothering man-to-man defense. Oakland Tech went the final 3:49 of the second quarter without scoring. Reserve Jerard Moret's offensive rebound basket with 29 seconds left tied the score at halftime and completed a 10-0 Comet streak.

The first quarter certainly provided plenty of entertainment. It started with a Marcus Johnson dunk off a lob pass from Ariza and ended with Oakland Tech's Maurice Neal grabbing a missed shot in midair and slamming it as the buzzer sounded.

Powe, who is bound for California, is much respected and beloved at Oakland Tech because of the way he has been able to overcome hardships. His mother was found dead only days before last year's state final. Through the years, he has lived at homeless shelters, cheap motels and a foster home. He tore a knee ligament last summer. Still wearing a brace, he scored 16 points Saturday, 10 in the fourth quarter.

Oakland Tech received a strong performance from junior guard Quentin Thomas, who had 16 points. Bobby Brown scored 13 points and Johnson 10 for Westchester.

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