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Mater Dei refuses to let drive for five be stopped
LONG BEACH – The drive for five is very much alive.
Mater Dei will get a chance at a fifth consecutive CIF State boys basketball championship next week, having defeated Fairfax of Los Angeles, 51-40, Saturday in the CIF Southern California Regionals Open Division final at Walter Pyramid at Long Beach State.
Mater Dei (29-4) advances to the CIF State Championship game next Saturday at 8 p.m. at Haas Pavilion on the Cal campus to play Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, the Northern California Regional champion. O’Dowd (26-4) beat Modesto Christian, 56-47, in the Northern California Regional final on Saturday.
The Monarchs beat O’Dowd in last year’s Open Division state championship game, 71-61. Stanley Johnson, now starring for Arizona, scored 25 points in that game.
Rex Pflueger led Mater Dei with a game-high 23 points Saturday, perhaps his best playoff game as a Monarch.
“I told Rex before the game, ‘We need a big game out of you,’ ” Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight said. “And he answered the call.”
La’vette Parker scored 16 points with four 3-pointers including a crucial one with 1:13 to go that made it 50-37. MJ Cage had 13 rebounds with five blocked shots.
Pflueger has endured some difficult shooting nights this month. Pflueger, who signed with Notre Dame, was 5 for 18 in the regionals going into Saturday.
While continuing to find other ways to contribute, Pfueger’s faith in his offensive skills never lagged, he said.
“I never lose my confidence," he said. "If I’m not scoring it doesn’t mean I’m not doing well. I’m playing hard defense or making passes to help my team.”
O’Dowd is No. 1 in the state rankings put together by CalHiSports.com. Mater Dei is No. 4 in that California top 20.
O’Dowd’s top player is Ivan Rabb, a 6-foot-10 senior. In last year’s state final, Rabb had only two points through three quarter and finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. Rabb has not selected his college destination. His final five choices are Arizona, Cal, Kansas, Kentucky and UCLA.
Mater Dei has won 11 state championships, the most of any school in California history. The Monarchs are 11-4 in state championship games.
This season’s Monarchs are trying to equal what the 2013 Monarchs did, which is win a state championship in a season in which they did not win a section championship. Mater Dei also did the lose-the-section/win-the-state double in 2007, ’08 and ’11.
The Monarchs were eliminated in the CIF-Southern Section Open Division semifinals by Etiwanda on March 3.
Mater Dei is 16-7 in regionals championship games, with all 23 of those games played during the 33-year tenure of McKnight.
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