Fairfax comes back down from 18 to beat Westchester

Fairfax guard Justyn Hunter battles for a rebound Jan. 29 against Westchester at Fairfax High School.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

On a night the stars and fans came out to fill up the Fairfax High gym and witness the excitement and drama of Round 2 in the Fairfax-Westchester basketball rivalry, the result was a game that finally provided clarity in determining a No. 1 seed for the City Section Open Division playoffs.

Down by 18 points in the second quarter, Fairfax (21-4, 8-0 Western League) roared back to secure a 65-57 victory behind a full-court press that produced two 10-second violations and players who started jumping, rebounding and hustling like a No. 1 seed is supposed to do.

“They came out and punched us in the face,” Fairfax senior guard Justyn Hunter said. “We weren’t executing our game plan.”

The Lions began to reverse the momentum at the end of the second quarter, scoring the final eight points to trail by 10 at halftime. In the third quarter, Hunter showed his experience from last year’s City championship team, getting his teammates to calm down. He also made two three-point baskets, and Westchester’s lead was down to two points.

In the fourth quarter, senior guard Justin Gladney delivered eight of his 16 points to lead a Fairfax surge that the Comets (15-7, 6-2) couldn’t stop.


“We did a great job executing the full-court press,” Hunter said.

The big surprise for Fairfax was being able to overcome an off game offensively for its leading scorer, Keith Dinwiddie. He had 11 points but no baskets after the first quarter. DJ Dudley finished with 13 points. Hunter had eight points and Barry Wilds also had eight points.

“Hunter calmed us, Gladney made some big plays and DJ had some big rebounds and had a presence out there,” Fairfax coach Reggie Morris Jr. said.

The game started with a tribute to Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas. The teams stood on the court as the shot clock was set to 34 seconds for Bryant’s No. 24 and No. 8 and No. 2 for Gianna. The crowd stood silently for 34 seconds.

The No. 1 fan for Fairfax, Flea, was in attendance, as was former Fairfax coach Harvey Kitani and last season’s City player of the year, USC’s Ethan Anderson.

Westchester looked ready to pull off an upset early on. Guard Ky-Mani Pollard made four three-pointers and had 15 points in the first half. But Fairfax turned it into a full-court game in the second half, and Pollard was limited to one made free throw the rest of the way.

It’s the fifth consecutive win for Fairfax in the rivalry over the last two seasons, and barring a late-season collapse, the Lions seem assured of the No. 1 seed for the Open Division playoffs.

There was another important City Section game Wednesday. Lake Balboa Birmingham defeated Woodland Hills Taft 79-66 for its sixth win in a row. David Elliott scored 22 points for Birmingham and Cory Cofield had 19 points.