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Mater Dei rolls to victory in regional final
ONTARIO – Mater Dei has won 21 CIF-Southern Section championships and eight CIF State titles in boys basketball.
The Monarchs are about to attempt something they have done only once before in Coach Gary McKnight’s 30 years coaching at Mater Dei – win back-to-back state championships.
Mater Dei defeated Bullard of Fresno, 85-66, on Saturday in the CIF Southern California Regionals Division 1 final at Citizens Bank Arena.
The Monarchs (33-2) advanced to the CIF State Championships Division 1 game, in which they will play Sheldon of Sacramento (30-5) next Saturday at 8 p.m. at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento.
Mater Dei defeated De La Salle of Concord in last year’s CIF State Division 1 championship game. If Mater Dei is victorious next week, it would be the second time the Monarchs will have won back-to-back state titles, having been state champions in 2007 and ’08.
If the Monarchs win next week, it would be the first time since 2003 when they won section and state championships in the same season. (Mater Dei’s girls basketball team also will be attempting a second consecutive state title next weekend in Sacramento.)
The Monarchs take a 20-game winning streak into the state finals. Bullard, the CIF-Central Section Division 1 champion, finished 31-4. The Knights beat Long Beach Poly in the semifinals on Tuesday.
Xavier Johnson led the charge for the Monarchs on Saturday. Johnson, a 6-foot-7 senior who signed with Colorado, scored 26 points, 20 in the first half, with 11 rebounds. He made 11 of his 18 shots, most of them within eight feet of the basket.
“Xavier was very strong inside,” McKnight said. “Dominating.”
Bullard senior Aaric Armstead scored 33, half of his team’s points. He was 9 for 22 from the field and 14 of 18 at the free-throw line with 13 rebounds.
Johnson, averaging 19 points and nine rebounds a game, continues to impress his teammates.
“He doesn’t have just one facet to his game,” said Mater Dei junior Elijah Brown, who scored 14 points with five assists. “He rebounds, he scores consistently, and he plays defense.”
With starting guard Jordan Strawberry frequently benched Saturday because of fouls, reserve Brown played 22 minutes.
“Elijah did a great job when he came in, especially coming in against a pressing-type of team,” McKnight said.
Mater Dei sophomore Stanley Johnson scored 18 points with 10 rebounds. Monarchs senior Katin Reinhardt scored 15.
Mater Dei exited the first quarter with a 17-12 lead. Xavier Johnson scored 10 points in the quarter, including two 3-point plays.
But the Monarchs had some difficulties breaking Bullard’s full-court trap and committed seven turnovers in the first quarter.
Bullard had its own problems, missing its first five shots of the quarter.
Mater Dei pushed its lead to 12 points early in the second quarter. Xavier Johnson scored 10 points in the second quarter to give him 20 points at halftime on an 8-for-12 shooting.
Bullard, taking advantage of more Mater Dei turnovers – the Monarchs made 11 of them in the first half - trimmed the Monarchs’ lead to four points, but Mater Dei pulled away again and had a 41-32 lead at halftime.
The Monarchs put the game away in the third quarter, in which they outscored Bullard, 23-10. Their biggest lead was 27 points in the fourth quarter.