Wearing a white headband to keep his braided hair from getting into his eyes, 6-foot-7 Ziaire Williams of Chatsworth Sierra Canyon sure looked the part of a McDonald’s All-American on Friday night in the Southern Section Open Division championship game before a capacity crowd of more than 4,500 at the Pyramid in Long Beach.
There was three dunks, six rebounds, one block, four steals and 25 points from Williams, the top uncommitted high school senior in the nation. When the Trailblazers need a big basket to halt any momentum trying to be generated by Santa Ana Mater Dei, Williams delivered. Sierra Canyon came away with a 59-48 victory over the Monarchs to claim its second consecutive Open Division title. The Trailblazers are 16-0 in playoff games the last two seasons since losing to Mater Dei in the 2018 section final.
You can say Sierra Canyon (28-4) has shown at least one way to win the Open Division. Last season, the Trailblazers’ starting lineup featured five transfer students en route to winning section and state titles. This season, the Trailblazers got five more transfers, including two McDonald’s All-Americans. Their starters include players who came from Atlanta, China, Westlake Village Oaks Christian, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame and Studio City Harvard-Westlake. Welcome to high school basketball in 2020.
The Trailblazers had eight out-of-state trips in front of large crowds to prepare for these playoff games and have no trouble adjusting to an arena setting.
Brandon Boston, the other McDonald’s All-American, chipped in 16 points. Wilhelm Breidenbach had 18 points and 14 rebounds and Devin Askew added 15 points for Mater Dei (25-7). Sierra Canyon’s defensive emphasis was to make Askew work hard for his shots. He was six-for-18 shooting from the field, one of five from three-point range.
“We did our homework all week on them,” said sophomore guard Amari Bailey. “We were ready and prepared for all their schemes.”
Sierra Canyon held a 33-27 halftime lead. Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight was doing his best to keep his team close. He called an early timeout after the Monarchs fell behind 7-2.
Williams started to put on lots of pressure. He had two dunks in the second quarter and was using his versatility to score 12 points by halftime. Breidenbach gave a boost to the Monarchs with 10 first-half points. Mater Dei was doing its best to limit transition opportunities off the fast break for Sierra Canyon.
Mater Dei trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, but an Askew three-pointer pulled the Monarchs to within 46-39. Williams just wouldn’t let the Monarchs get close.
Bronny James and Amari Bailey. pic.twitter.com/m2Clmm5MQc— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) February 29, 2020
“He’s been doing that all year,” Bailey said.
Now the Trailblazers will prepare for the Southern California regional playoffs that begin on Wednesday. Seedings come out on Sunday. Sierra Canyon will be the No. 1 seed for the Open Division.