Fans were plunking down $50 bills trying to secure one of the 100 available floor seats, the only tickets left by early Saturday afternoon, when the seating capacity of close to 3,000 was reached at Cerritos College, more than 2 1/2 hours before No. 1-ranked Chino Hills was scheduled to take on No. 2 Torrance Bishop Montgomery in the high school basketball game of the year.
"I've been bombarded by phone calls," said Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani, who put together the matchup months ago as part of his eight-game Fairfax State Preview Classic.
The game between two unbeaten teams lived up to the hype. Bishop Montgomery came out in attack mode from the outset. It led by two points at halftime and by two after three quarters. But Chino Hills turned to freshmen LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu for key contributions in the final minutes and pulled out a 71-67 victory.
"I thought we should have won," Bishop Montgomery Coach Doug Mitchell said. "We had some critical turnovers."
Said Chino Hills Coach Steve Baik, "We just made this game way more difficult than it needed to be."
Sophomore David Singleton led Bishop Montgomery (21-1) with 22 points. Junior Jordan Schakel scored 19 and junior Ethan Thompson had 17.
LiAngelo Ball led Chino Hills (22-0) with 22 points. LaMelo Ball had 18, Elizah Scott 16 and Okongwu 10. UCLA-bound Lonzo Ball struggled with his shooting, going two for 21 and finishing with five points.
"We finally settled in and ran something," Baik said of the Huskies' execution in the final two minutes.
Hundreds of fans trying to get into the gym before tipoff formed a line that stretched outside all the way to the school's football field. Chino Hills, ranked No. 1 in the nation by several publications, has created a buzz and following that's selling out gyms wherever it plays.
It was perhaps the most anticipated regular-season basketball game in Southern California since 2003, when a teenage LeBron James came to town with Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary to play Santa Ana Mater Dei at Pauley Pavilion. A capacity crowd of more than 12,000 saw James lead his team to a 64-58 win.
Chino Hills and Bishop Montgomery could meet again in the Southern Section Open Division playoffs.