Column: Good luck beating Bishop Montgomery, nearly at full strength and 24-0
With one week left in the high school basketball regular season, let me offer an observation that might produce a Sports Illustrated-like jinx: The opportunity to defeat Torrance Bishop Montgomery has come and gone.
At 24-0, riding a 39-game winning streak and nearing full strength after missing key players to season-long injuries, the Knights are about to take their game up another notch.
Sitting in the bleachers on Friday night at L.A. Cathedral, anyone could see the nucleus of a championship team.
Gianni Hunt, a standout junior point guard, was back for his third game since recovering from a broken ankle. In the first half, he looked rusty. His teardrop floater down the key was coming up short. His three-point shots were also short. But he was driving and dishing, creating open shots for teammates.
By the third quarter, Hunt was suddenly loose and feisty. He made two three-pointers and scored eight of Bishop Montgomery’s next 10 points. He finished with eight assists.
Also participating was 230-pound Will Crawford, who had been injured. He’s the Knights’ best defender inside. By the final buzzer, Bishop Montgomery won 83-59. UCLA-bound David Singleton scored 32 points and couldn’t have been happier reuniting with Hunt.
“It’s like old times,” Singleton said. “I missed him. It’s like brotherly love. I trust him. He trusts me. We’re more of a cohesive unit. We feed off each other.”
Bishop Montgomery has come close to losing this season. Westchester lost games by one and three points to the Knights. Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart seemed a certain winner — until Fletcher Tynen made an off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer two weeks ago. Then there’s Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, which somehow couldn’t beat the Knights when they were missing Singleton, Hunt and Crawford.
“No, we’re going to get better,” coach Doug Mitchell said.
And that’s the scary part for teams such as Etiwanda (25-1), Santa Ana Mater Dei (18-6), Sierra Canyon (19-3) and Encino Crespi (23-2), all of which have title aspirations.
Bishop Montgomery has so much more to offer this season. The team has never been at full strength dating back to the fall. On Friday, the Knights weren’t at full strength because star backup player Oscar Lopez was injured. Even with players out, the Knights find ways to win. They do the little things so well — pump-fake to draw a foul; box out to get a rebound; help defense to neutralize a 6-foot-9 center.
“I’ll be excited when we have our whole team back and can compete,” Mitchell said.
Last season, Bishop Montgomery won the Southern Section and state Open Division championships, taking down Marvin Bagley-led Sierra Canyon, Bol Bol-led Mater Dei and Chino Hills, led by LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball. That was extraordinary.
Good teams are certainly capable of hanging with the Knights this season, but to do it for 32 minutes when they are healthy will be the toughest of challenges. And the Knights are definitely getting healthy.
“I still have to get my rhythm back,” Hunt said. “I’m a little out of shape.”
There’s a little twinkle in Mitchell’s eyes knowing he’s soon going to have a complete team.
“We’ve been waiting all year,” he said.
The playoffs don’t start for two weeks. The eight teams selected for the Southern Section Open Division field will be announced at 3 p.m. Friday.
Mitchell will use remaining time in practice to fine tune his nine-man rotation.
Good luck to opponents. It will take a monumental upset to prevent the Knights from finishing undefeated this season. Cantwell-Sacred Heart gets the final crack in the regular season on Wednesday at Bishop Montgomery.
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