Round One goes to Los Angeles Fairfax — by a knockout.
In a matchup of City Section Open Division boys’ basketball title contenders, the Lions built an early lead and never let up in earning early-season bragging rights over Western League rival Westchester with a 75-64 victory Friday night at Westchester High.
Although neither team is in championship form yet, new Fairfax coach Reggie Morris Jr. got his first taste of the rivalry guiding a team and got the best of his mentor Ed Azzam, under whom he played at Westchester.
“Big games are big games and this rivalry is a big deal,” said Morris, a 1996 Westchester alum. “We’ve coached against each other before and Ed owns the advantage over me. In the big picture this means nothing. Both teams have to get a lot better before the playoffs.”
After being held to one 3-pointer in the first quarter, Fairfax guard Keith Dinwiddie caught fire in the second when he scored 13 of his game-high 22 points — including 11 points in a row — to extend the Lions’ lead to 30-17 with 3:30 left in the first half.
Azzam, the winningest coach in City history with 902 victories, has led the Comets to 14 section titles since taking over in 1979-80, but he could only watch from the bench in dismay as his team looked tight and missed eight of 14 free throws.
Justyn Hunter had 14 points, Armon Cole had 12 and Justin Gladney and DJ Dudley each added 10 for Fairfax (7-0 overall, 2-0 in league), which beat Westchester for the fourth consecutive time. The Lions won all three meetings last season — the last in the City finals — under former coach Steve Baik, who resigned in April.
The last time neither Fairfax nor Westchester played in the City’s upper division final was 2012 when Woodland Hills Taft beat Los Angeles Dorsey in Division I.
Zion Sutton scored 14 points and Joseph Johnson and T.J. Wainwright each added 13 to lead the Comets (3-3, 1-1), who were outscored 19-7 in the second quarter.
Both programs are retooling after losing key players to graduation. Westchester lost Jordan Brandon and Kaelen Allen while the Lions lost City player of the year Ethan Anderson and Robert McRae.
The rematch will be Jan. 29 at Fairfax in a game that could determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Open Division, although Morris isn’t looking that far ahead.
“There’s a lot of work to do between now and then,” he said. “I didn’t even game plan for this. It’s more about how we’re playing than the opponent.”