FAB 50 No. 11 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) remains unbeaten vs. California foes with a 47-34 over No. 15 Fairfax (Los Angeles) at the Nike Extravaganza. Second half defensive effort and clutch shooting of La’Vette Parker keys victory for Monarchs.
There was no question the team at Fairfax (Los Angeles) was projected to be one of California’s best teams for 2014-15 in the preseason. The senior-laden team has actually played above expectations behind its trio of outstanding guards.
The Lions, two-time state champions, were unbeaten and had risen into the top five in some credible national rankings. Fairfax, however, had to go into enemy territory on Saturday night to defeat the team that had only lost on its home court two times in 69 games.
That team was four-time CIF state champion Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), a team which came into the final game of the Nike Extravaganza with three losses — but none against California teams. With a great defensive effort, Mater Dei showed that the road to the CIF Open Division still goes through its program, as the Monarchs held Fairfax to nine points in the second half of a 47-34 win.
Despite starting the game trailing 9-0, the team foul situation being 7-0 against the Lions to begin the game and Mater Dei (22-3) closing out the third quarter on a 10-2 run, Fairfax was still in great position to win. It was tied 34-34 with four minutes to go, but Mater Dei used its solid on-ball defense, superb help side defense and the clutch shooting of senior guard La’Vette Parker to close the game on a 13-0 run.
Fairfax had open shots after Mater Dei closed out on baseline drives, but they simply didn’t go down for the Lions, who were the last team to defeat Mater Dei in its home gym in the 2009 SoCal Regional playoffs.
Fairfax made only 2-of-19 3-pointers as a team, with one coming from junior sharpshooter Donald Gipson, who finished with eight points, as did senior point guard Lindsey Drew, who also had 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots, but shot 4-of-12 from the field. Lorne Currie Jr., the third guard in Fairfax’s attack, was the Lions’ only double digit scorer with 11 points.
Mater Dei made 4-of-16 3-pointers, but three of them came from Parker and two of those came during the decisive 13-0 run. The first gave the Monarchs a 37-34 lead and another jumper made it 42-34. The 6-foot-2 Parker, who is still uncommitted but is getting serious looks from Cal-St. Fullerton, Cal-St. Long Beach, San Diego and Air Force, led all scorers with 22 points, as he made 7-of-19 field goals and 5-of-5 free throws.
Notre Dame bound Rex Pflueger was Mater Dei’s other double digit scorer with 11 points. He also had four assists and played stellar man-to-man defense, especially when cutting off driving lanes to the baseline on Fairfax’s quick guards. Junior center M.J. Cage added four points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
“A lot of people really don’t know about him, but when he gets hot he can hit everything,” Cage said about his teammate Parker. “This was a great that will help us through the rest of our league games and the playoffs.”
“Our coaching staff does a great job,” Pflueger said. “We came in knowing we we’re going to switch everything and that if we cut off the backside, we’d be fine.”
With Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.), which came into the event ranked No. 5 in the FAB 50, losing on Saturday and Mater Dei, which came in ranked No. 11, coming up with a big win, it must be determined for this upcoming week’s FAB 50 if Mater Dei deserves to be ranked in front of O’Dowd as California’s top-ranked team, or if one-loss Bishop Montgomery (Torrance, Calif.), which is No. 13 in the FAB 50, deserves consideration.
O’Dowd did lose to higher ranked No. 3 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) twice, with its other two losses to No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) and No. 10 Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.). Mater Dei also hasn’t lost in-state, with Bishop Montgomery only having one loss to an unranked in-state opponent.
Regardless of how it shakes out, O’Dowd won’t fall far in the national and CalHiSports.com state rankings and Mater Dei proved it will still be difficult to knock off in its quest for a fifth consecutive state title.