Late surge carries West Ranch to victory at the Nike Extravaganza
The ball changed area codes in a blink, a team that’s tried to slow the pace turning supersonic.
With the Santa Clarita West Ranch Wildcats surging in the fourth quarter Saturday, putting the finishing touches on a 78-68 win over Bishop O’Connell of Virginia, point guard Darrell Morris poked the ball free and skidded across the floor for the ball. In one motion, the 5-foot-9 guard passed the ball to senior Jaqari Miles, who got his fingertips on it before flinging a pass to forward Andrew Meadow.
“We have the most versatility, I think,” Meadow said, “out of any team.”
It didn’t look like this was going to work at the beginning of the season. West Ranch, which had never made it to the Open Division, was suddenly working with an abundance of talent: four-year senior stalwart Meadow, outside shooter Miles, junior wing James Evans — and 7-foot Hacienda Heights Los Altos transfer Jazz Gardner. At least six players on the roster could create their own shot, and suddenly, a hotly coveted center got thrown into the mix.
In an October preseason tournament in Vegas, the offense was scattershot. Gardner looked uncertain, his shot not falling.
Building chemistry, Meadow said, was “the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”
Heading into the playoffs, though, the pieces are clicking. The Wildcats are 25-1 with the win over O’Connell at Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Nike Extravaganza.
Dusty Stromer took over in the third quarter and finished with 22 points, and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame held off Sierra Canyon 66-62 at Pauley Pavilion.
It started with coach Jeff Bryant, who entered the season believing he had to adapt a fast-paced, five-out offense from seasons past. Gardner presented an opportunity: a big who could play in the post and perimeter, who could facilitate from anywhere on the court. The Wildcats needed ball movement, player movement. Not constantly hunting for quick shots in transition.
“I don’t think that is a recipe to win a championship, especially in the Open Division,” Bryant said.
Three games into the season, heading into a matchup with similarly talented Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, Bryant explained what he needed from each of his players. Gardner and Meadow would be the fulcrums. They’d run plays for Miles. Evans and senior Isaiah Fields would be slashers and shooters. Morris would run the show.
Marcus Adams Jr. scores 40 points in Narbonne’s 77-67 win over San Pedro in boys’ basketball on Friday.
“It changed the way our season was going from that day on,” Bryant said.
It’s created magic like that fourth-quarter sequence against O’Connell. Magic like Gardner playing from the perimeter and feeding the shorter Meadow in the post. Miles finished with 23 points, Meadow with 20 and Gardner 15 against O’Connell.
“It’s a combination of skill and size between the both of us that can create a lot of mismatches,” Meadow said of him and Gardner. “Either of us can be on the wing, either of us can be on the block.”
“We take turns, I guess you could say,” Gardner said with a grin.
Meadow is the epicenter. He’s been a Santa Clarita Valley kid since elementary school, staying at West Ranch for four years. The program, Bryant said, knew it would attract talent because of Meadow.
“They want to win for themselves, but they also want to win for Andrew … he’s one of those kids you want to go to war for,” Bryant said.
Nike Extravaganza standouts
Notre Dame (19-8) beat St. Augustine, one of the best teams in San Diego, 84-72. Oak Hill (Va.) transfer Mercy Miller took over late, hitting multiple threes to finish with 39 points.
Studio City Harvard-Westlake (26-1) continued rolling with a 63-42 win over Concord De La Salle, the game all but over after Brady Dunlap led the way with 10 fourth-quarter points.
Corona Centennial reaffirmed its status as the team to beat in the Open Division, the reigning state champions fending off Liberty (Nev.) 90-64. Junior Eric Freeny had one of the best games of his high school career, scoring 34 points. Senior UCLA commit Devin Williams added 14 points in front of Bruins coach Mick Cronin, sitting courtside, and freshman Amari Bailey.
Former CIF assistant commissioner honored
Ever wonder where the CIF’s beloved phrase “Academics, Integrity, Athletics” came from?
That would be Dr. Harold L. Cebrun, a former CIF assistant commissioner, who was honored at halftime of the West Ranch-O’Connell game with a framed plaque courtesy of Extravaganza host Mater Dei. Cebrun didn’t attend, but his daughter Kimberli and friend James Wallace accepted the plaque on his behalf.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.