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Fryer: Mater Dei, others need to make most of second chance

STAFF WRITER

(Video: Steve Fryer and Jonathan Khamis break down all of the regional finals.)

Life is replete with second chances, even in high school basketball.

The Esperanza, Mater Dei and Villa Park boys basketball teams did not win CIF-Southern Section championships. They did qualify for the CIF Southern California Regionals that provided them their second chance.

Esperanza, Mater Dei and Villa Park are playing in regional championship games Saturday. Southern California Regionals winners play in the CIF State Championships next week in Sacramento.

Mater Dei lost to Bishop Montgomery of Torrance in the CIF-SS Open Division championship game. The Monarchs play Bishop Montgomery in the Southern California Regionals Open Division final Saturday at 8 p.m. (or so) at the Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State.

The Monarchs did not play poorly in the loss to Bishop Montgomery two weeks ago at Honda Center. Bishop Montgomery simply was the superior team.

Mater Dei can beat Bishop Montgomery on Saturday if the Monarchs pay more attention to their most-visible asset.

This asset is the most visible because he’s 7-feet tall.

Bol Bol, the Monarchs’ 7-foot-something (estimates vary) junior center, was their best player against Bishop Montgomery in the CIF-SS final and in their regional wins over Westchester of Los Angeles and St. Augustine of San Diego.

The Monarchs must get him the ball more often, maybe even on every half-court set possession. Place Bol in the low post and Bishop Montgomery is going to put two defenders on him, thus creating an open shot for another Monarch.

Whenever there is single coverage on Bol down low, get him the ball immediately because it’s just about an automatic basket.

Mater Dei does not have to be precise with its passes to Bol around the basket. Just toss the basketball within a 5-foot radius of the hoop, and about 3 feet above the hoop, and Bol will snag it and dunk it.

Bol also has a nifty turnaround jump shot down low. He’s close to unstoppable down there now. If he learns a weak-handed jump hook, then he will own every game he’s in.

Bol was 7 for 8 from the field against Bishop Montgomery in the CIF-SS Open Division game. In the Monarchs’ two regional games, Bol was 11 for 13 against Westchester and 7 for 10 against St. Augustine.

Fouling Bol is not a good option for Bishop Montgomery. Bol is shooting 73 percent from the free-throw line.

Mater Dei also needs junior point guard Spencer Freedman to reacquire his shot. Freedman is the Monarchs’ best 3-point shooting threat. Freedman is 2 for 16 on 3s in the regionals.

Senior forward Justice Sueing is 1 for 12 on 3s over the past three games. As a team, the Monarchs are 8 for 49 on 3s over the three games, for 16 percent.

On all shots, Mater Dei is 77 for 165 over the past three games, for 47 percent. That’s a good field-goal percentage for a high school team in big games. However, extract Bol’s 25-for-31 shooting over those three games and Mater Dei’s other players were 52 for 134, for 38 percent.

Bishop Montgomery has terrific shooters. In the Knights’ win over Mater Dei, Oregon State-bound Ethan Thompson was 7 for 13, David Singleton was 6 for 11 and Jordan Schakel was 6 for 11. Bishop Montgomery was 9 for 24 on 3s, a fine output anywhere but especially so in Honda Center.

Matt Weyand, a 6-6 senior, is Mater Dei’s best defensive player. Michael Wang, a 6-10 junior, has played well defensively, too, and 5-10 junior CJ Parks has seen his playing time expand in the regionals partially because he is an active, doesn’t-back-down defender.

The Monarchs can play tight defense outside on Bishop Montgomery’s shooters, because they have two backup layers on defense – they switch off very well, creating the first backup layer, and they have shot-blocking, shot-altering Bol as about the best final layer a team could have.

Bishop Montgomery beat Mater Dei by 15 points at Honda Center. I’ve got Bishop Montgomery beating Mater Dei by five points Saturday. If the Monarchs are more aggressive on defense, and if two or more Bishop Montgomery shooters have that off game that happens to everybody at some point, and if the Monarchs incorporate Bol more frequently in their offense, they can win Saturday and go to Sacramento to try to get their 12th state championship.

As for Esperanza, which plays at home Saturday at 6 p.m. against Pasadena in the Southern California Regionals Division II championship game, it is essential that Orange County’s best player, Kezie Okpala, does what he did Tuesday in the Aztecs’ 64-51 win over Crossroads of Santa Monica in the regional semifinals – set up shop closer to the basket.

Okpala’s superb inside-outside game enabled him to score a school-record 46 points Tuesday; he set the school record when he scored 45 points against Yorba Linda on Jan. 24 and equaled it 10 days later with 45 points against Foothill.

Okpala pretty much vacated his inside game in the Aztecs’ regionals second-round game against Bakersfield. Esperanza won easily, by 26 points, and Okpala scored 22 points. But he is going to have to do plenty of inside work for Esperanza to beat Pasadena, which is one of the more athletic teams the Aztecs have faced this season.

Esperanza was swept out of the CIF-SS Open Division playoffs in two games. The Aztecs then won their regionals first-round, second-round and semifinals games by an average of 19 points.

Pasadena is on the second-chance bus, too. The Bulldogs lost to Harvard-Westlake of Studio City in the CIF-SS 1A championship game, then beat Harvard-Westlake in the regionals semifinals.

Like Mater Dei, Villa Park will play the team it lost to in a CIF-SS championship game. The Spartans lost to Colony of Ontario, 74-70, in the Division 2AA championship game. They are at Colony on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Southern California Regionals Division III final.

It’s going to be tough to beat Colony in its home gym. Visiting teams can be prone to turnovers, and turnovers were a problem for Villa Park in the CIF-SS final against Colony. Villa Park committed 20 turnovers in that game.

Rebounding will be critical, too. Colony’s quick and strong Titans got 15 offensive rebounds in the CIF-SS final.

Opposing teams emphasize controlling the Spartans’ Franklin brothers, senior Myles and sophomore Julien, who are Villa Park’s best players. Caleb Banuelos scored a game-high 20 points, and was 4 for 6 on 3s, in the CIF-SS final loss to Colony. Another strong game like that from Banuelos would be an enormous benefit.

These second chances come only once, so make the most of them.


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