Granada Hills Charter entered the City Section Division I championship game on a most magical ride, a 10th seed with an overall losing record that had gotten hot in the playoffs and was eager to write the most improbable ending to what was becoming an unbelievable story.
But Crenshaw High of Los Angeles, the defending Division I champion, did not want to be part of that kind of fairy tale. Instead the Cougars tore through the Highlanders in the second half, outscoring the Highlanders 45-21, and won in blowout fashion, 65-45, at Cal State Dominguez Hills on Saturday, March 4.
The Cougars (22-4) have a boys’ basketball pedigree like few others in City basketball. Saturday marked the 18th championship the school has won. And the Crenshaw style of full-court, trapping defense that seems to be in vogue again in Southland high school hoops, eventually took all the fight out of Granada Hills (14-16) in the second half, particularly when the Cougars put a couple of their taller front court players at half court to trap and exhaust the Highlander guards
“We always believe we’re the superior-conditioned team,“ Crenshaw Coach Ed Waters said. “We try to wear a team down. But we also put our tallest player” — 6-6 center Lamar Harris — “at the top of the defense in the second half to slow them down. They were a little quicker than we first thought. You couldn’t just tell that from watching film.”
Indeed, Granada Hills had carved out a 27-24 halftime lead because guards Jesse Bannout, Onaje Higgins, Luke Alviar, Joel Carrillo were good enough dribblers that they could penetrate Crenshaw’s more conventional defense and find openings for good shots for themselves or the other wing players.
And when Harris — who led all scorers with 19 — got a technical foul early in the third quarter, Alviar pushed the Highlanders’ lead to 33-24 by making both free throws.
Then the game abruptly swung in Crenshaw’s way.
The Cougars went on an 18-3 run the rest of third quarter to take the lead, 42-36. And as their defense got stronger, the Highlanders fell into disarray with turnovers and bad shots, enabling Crenshaw to run up the court for dunks.
Coach Don Loperena has a young starting core — Higgins is the only senior — and was understandably proud of how far his team went despite its under .500 record. But, he said, the Crenshaw game showed how much more the Highlanders have to develop to be an elite team.
“To be here with this young group has been pretty much smoke and mirrors thus far,” Loperena said. “None of them lead. When a team goes on a run…we need to find a leader. Someone has to step up.
“It’s the youngest group I’ve had in 19 years. I’m amazed and so proud of them for being here. But I told them, ‘if you don’t
get each other’s back, talk, and get out of your quiet personalities, you’re in trouble.’ [Crenshaw] was angry they were losing and attacked us. And we didn’t have one guy who could say ‘Let’s do this.’ It’s in you or it’s not. And if it’s not, you better find it.”