It'd be a stretch to say La Cañada High boys' basketball coach Tom Hofman knew his team would be playing so late into the year.
The Spartans are booked this weekend, though, as they'll be playing La Verne Lutheran in the regional finals of the CIF State Division III Southern California Regional tournament at USC's Galen Center at noon on Saturday.
"We knew we would make a good run in CIF, but we knew the competition would be tough and didn't quite know what to expect in the playoffs," Hofman said. "We didn't know we could win this many close games in a row. It would be a stretch to say I knew we would get this far."
The 2007 La Cañada team was the only other group to have made it this far. It ran into an Artesia team, featuring the likes of current NBA standout for the Oklahoma City Thunder James Harden, and lost, 79-53.
However, La Cañada, the bracket's top seed, figures to be the favorite this time around. The Spartans (30-3) are currently ranked 21st in the state by maxpreps.com, and La Verne Lutheran comes into the game ranked 28th with a 25-5 record. La Verne advanced to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA tournament before falling to Price, 63-58.
Hofman knows, however, that La Verne, the 11th seed, is not a team to be taken lightly. His main focus will be continuing to play the Spartans' style on the big stage.
"We need to control the tempo," Hofman said. "The biggest thing for us will be our shot selection and taking away their really easy baskets. They have a really nice inside-out game so we need to be aware of that."
Controlling the inside for La Verne Lutheran is junior Grant Jerrett, a 6-foot-9 power forward who has verbally committed to the University of Arizona. A five-star recruit, Jerrett is ranked first at his position and sixth overall in the 2012 class by ESPN's college basketball recruiting website.
The Matt Faber-Jerrett matchup should be an interesting one, as they both have averaged nearly a double-double in the regular season. Jerrett averaged 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and Faber produced 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds a game before the playoffs. However, he has turned it up in the postseason.
Of course, Faber will have help down low.
"We really need to focus on helping inside with the defense," Hofman said.
The Spartans have already faced several imposing big men in the playoffs. Their greatest test came in the form of Norvel Pelle, Price's power forward (ranked 14th at his position for the class of 2011 by ESPN), and they passed with flying colors. Price couldn't get their inside game going all night, as La Cañada kept a handful of players within an arm's length of Pelle throughout the game. He finished with four points on zero-of-five shooting from the field.
C.J. Cooper, La Verne Lutheran's point guard, could also be another tough assignment for La Cañada's defensive stopper, Mason Holle. Cooper averaged 14.4 points, 5.8 assists and 2.3 steals a game in the regular season and went off for 30 points in his team's 61-45 win over Harvard-Westlake Saturday. La Verne also defeated University City and Orange Lutheran in the opening rounds of the state tournament.
The winner of Saturday's game will be crowned the champion of the CIF State Division III Southern California tournament and will go on to face the winner of the El Cerrito-Bishop O'Dowd game in the state championship at the Arco Arena in Sacramento on March 26.