Mater Dei's Travis Wear dunks during Saturday night's game against St. Benedict's of New Jersey in the Nike Extravaganza. The Monarchs won, 73-61. (<a href="">Click here to read the story.</a>)

Mater Dei shows why it's No. 1 in the nation

Mater Dei shows why it's No. 1 in the nation
Limited by foul trouble, the Monarchs still manage to beat No. 2 St. Benedict's, 73-61, in the Nike Extravaganza finale.

SANTA ANA - Mater Dei established itself as the No. 1 high school boys basketball team in the nation in December, when it won the talent-heavy City of Palms Classic championship.

The Monarchs solidified that status Saturday.

In a battle of the country's top two ranked teams, Mater Dei beat St. Benedict's of Newark, N.J., 73-61, in the Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei.

Mater Dei, No. 1 in USA Today and many other national rankings, improved to 24-0 with its victory over St. Benedict's, No. 2 in USA Today. St. Benedict's lost twice this past week, including a loss to No. 9 St. Patrick of Elizabeth, N.J., Wednesday.

And No. 1 beat No. 2 without one of its best players, Andy Brown, who is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and a couple of others who missed large portions of the game because of fouls.

Monarchs point guard Gary Franklin got his third foul with 3:10 left in the first quarter, was removed and did not play the rest of the first half. Fouls put Travis Wear on the bench for a few stretches, and he fouled out in the fourth quarter.

When Franklin was out, reserve Tommy Stangl handled most of the point guard duties, with shooting guard Tyler Lamb also playing the point.

Mater Dei has used various starting fives since Brown's injury. Saturday, the usual starting foursome of David and Travis Wear, Franklin and Lamb was augmented by senior Connor Hughes, for whom basketball is his secondary sport. (Hughes has a volleyball scholarship from UC Irvine.)

Hughes came out strong, scoring four points early in the first quarter to help Mater Dei establish a quick lead, and finished with 12 points.

"After losing Andy," David Wear said, "we knew everyone would have to pick it up. Everybody stepped up and tonight, especially, Connor was phenomenal."

David Wear said the contributions of Hughes and Stangl, plus a few minutes of faultless play by other reserves such as freshman Eli Stalzer and junior Michael Pierce, should erase any doubts about Mater Dei's depth.

"All year," he said, "people have been saying we're only five or six deep. But we know, from playing these guys in practice every day, how good they are."

David Wear led Mater Dei with 18 points, and Lamb scored 17. Travis Wear scored 13. David Wear, Lamb and Hughes had seven rebounds apiece.

Tavon Sledge, a 5-foot-9 sophomore guard, led St. Benedict's with 17 points. Tristan Thompson added 14 points for the Gray Bees.

Monarchs coach Gary McKnight expressed concern that the Gray Bees' loss to St. Patrick would have them fired up and out for redemption, but Mater Dei never gave St. Benedict's a chance at it.

The Monarchs never trailed. They had a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter, and a 13-point lead at halftime.

And in the third quarter, they built a 19-point cushion as David Wear had eight points in the period.

Mater Dei took a 19-point lead into the fourth quarter. St. Benedict's got no closer than the 12-point final margin.

The Monarchs turned in perhaps one of their better defensive efforts of the year. Nearly every St. Benedict's was contested, and very few St. Benedict's missed shots wound up in the hands of Gray Bees' players.

Mater Dei shot 49 percent from the floor, making 22 of 45 shots, and made 10 of its 15 free throws. St. Benedict's also shot 49 percent, and was 22 for 45 from the floor.

Mater Dei has played a few East Coast teams this year, teams that play a different style and thus bring unique challenges. St. Benedict's sure did.

"East Coast teams try to dribble-drive a little bit more," David Wear said. "We knew that if we could stop their penetration and box out and get the rebounds, then we'd be OK, because our offensive game is pretty good."

Mater Dei plays two more regular-season games, both Trinity League games, at St. John Bosco of Bellflower and at Orange Lutheran, next week before the playoffs begin.

Playoff seedings and first-round pairings will be released Feb. 15.

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