Final Thoughts: Rolling Hills Prep State Preview Classic

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NORWALK, CA. – The programs that hooked up in the California State Southern Open championship game last March were in the same building for the first time this season Saturday night at Cerritos College.

Although they didn’t play one another again – that’s not going to happen until, at the earliest, on Feb. 24, during a possible Southern Section Open semifinal – it was quite apparent why the Chino Hills Huskies and Torrance Bishop Montgomery Knights are strong candidates for Southern Section and state championships.

Each rolled to impressive victories during the Rolling Hills Prep State Preview, as presented by Scorebook Live.

While playing in front of a near-capacity crowd of 2,500-plus, the Huskies improved to 23-0 with their 106-80 decision against Mt. Pleasant Wasatch Academy – the top team in Utah.

And the Knights were just as emphatic in their dominance while pounding the No. 2 team in the L.A. City, Fairfax, 79-55, to improve to 20-2.

In two of the other games played Saturday that involved Southern Section Open Division candidates playing against each other, Santa Margarita edged Corona Centennial (52-51) while Mission Hills Alemany cruised past Santa Monica (85-65).

Chino Hills, playing in the finale of the eight-game event that tipped at 9:30 Saturday morning, stretched its two-season winning streak to 58 while hitting the century mark in scoring for the 13th time (including the last five games) this season.

With their older brother – UCLA freshman guard Lonzo Ball – looking on from courtside with their parents and both sets of grandparents, sophomore Melo (33) and senior Gelo (31) combined for 64 points as the Huskies scored the final 10 points of the first quarter and were never threatened by a team that dropped to 18-4.

Melo Ball was the most dynamic player in the event, hitting nine 3s (and 11 of 23 overall from the field) to go with 15 assists, three steals and only two turnovers.

Gelo Ball (who scored 60, 49 and 52 points in his three most recent Baseline League contests) hit his first and then his last two attempts from behind the arc but finished just 11 of 31 overall from the field.

Coach Stephan Gilling’s squad also got its usual strong efforts from Loyola Marymount-bound Elizjah Scott (26 points, on 11 of 12 from the field, with 12 rebounds and three blocked shots) and sophomore post Onyeka Okongwu (10 points, on five of seven from the field, with nine rebounds and seven blocked shots).

Santa Clara-bound, 6-foot-8 Josip Vranic led the Tigers with 28 points (11 of 21 shooting) and seven rebounds.

In the seventh game of the day, Bishop Montgomery scored 17 of the game’s first 19 points and was in front by 25 points – 46-21 – at intermission against the short-handed Fairfax Lions (19-2).

Six-five and Oregon State-bound Ethan Thompson scored 26 points with six rebounds and six assists for Doug Mitchell’s Knights while San Diego State-bound Jordan Schackel (16 points and six rebounds) and junior David Singleton (17 points) also turned in sterling efforts.

Junior guard Jamal Hartwell scored 16 of his team-high 24 points in the third quarter for the Lions, who have been without exceptional sophomore guard Ethan Anderson (sore knee) for a couple of weeks.

Santa Margarita (17-5) trailed Corona Centennial (17-7) by 13 points late in the second quarter before turning in an exceptional final 20 or so minutes, capped by two Kaden Rashheed free throws with 11 seconds remaining that gave the Eagles a three-point advantage.

And that was enough – by a point – as Gio Nelson’s potential tying jump shot went through the net at the buzzer but was ruled by the officials to have come with his toe brushing the 3-point line, giving the Huskies just two points for the shot

Rasheed, a senior guard, scored all of his 15 points after intermission (nine of those via 3s) while sophomore forward Jake Kyman added 12 points and six rebounds.

UCLA-bound Jalen Hill mostly struggled offensively (six turnovers while missing 12 of 17 shots) but scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. He grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots.

Alemany (18-3) is one of the hottest teams in Southern California and continued to look like one of the region’s very best squad with its 11th win in a row while toppling Santa Monica.

Six-four Earnie Sears Jr. – one of the very best “available seniors” among college prospects in California – scored a game-high 25 points for Tray Meeks’ squad.

And juniors D.J. McDonald (21 points, including three 3s) and Fred Odihiambo (11 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocked shots) were exceptional, as well, for the Warriors.

Junior forward De’sean Allen-Eikens led Santa Monica with 24 points.

In the other four games played Saturday:

Sheldon 64, Orange Lutheran 63: Senior point guard Elisha Duplechan scored 20 points – including the go-ahead drive with 10 seconds to go – as tge Huskies (top-ranked in Northern California) rallied to hold off the Lancers, who couldn’t get off a potential game-winning shot before the final buzzer sounded.

The Huskies (19-2) trailed by as many as 18 points before running off a 16-zip spurt late in the third quarter.

Senior Chris Williams, one of the best unsigned guards in Southern California, led the Lancers with 21 points (15 coming by way of five 3s).

Maranatha 64, Durango 58: Sean Espinoza, a 5-10 senior, scored 25 points (nine apiece in the first and third quarters) as the Minutemen continued their strong play of late with their victory over Durango – their sixth in a row.

Freshman guard Anthony Hunter Jr. scored 16 points for Durango with nine of those coming in a fourth quarter in which he helped his team close to within three points late.

Serra 66, Loyola 59: Junior Kobe Smith and sophomore E.J. Jackson scored 13 points apiece as the Cavaliers up their record to 12-10 with their win over the 12-8 Cubs.

The 5-6 Jackson scored all of his points in the second half with seven of those coming via eight free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.

Rolling Hills Prep 67, Brentwood 45: The underclass trio of sophomore Chris Koon (24) and juniors Colin Au (16) and Alex Garcia (11) combined for 51 of their team’s points as the host Huskies of Coach Harvey Kitani rolled en route to improving to 16-1.

Sophomore guard Brett Polson came off the bench to score a team-high nine points for the Eagles of Coach Ryan Bailey, who dropped to 15-8.

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