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Nation’s No. 1 team puts on a clinic

03/14/2014, 11:03pm PDT
By Craig Malveaux

Santa Ana Mater Dei’s glitz, talent way too much for St. Augustine


St. Augustine’s Martin Tombe looks to pass while being covered by Mater Dei’s Michael Cage in the first half Friday in the Southern California Regional Open Division quarterfinals.

— Slated for a 7 p.m. tipoff, the boys basketball state playoff game between top-seeded Santa Ana Mater Dei and No. 8 St. Augustine was postponed for seven minutes.

School officials dazzled attendees to a pregame entertainment show mirroring those at the collegiate and professional levels.

The production manager dimmed the Meruelo Athletic Center lights, cueing the spotlights flickering above the basketball court.

Then a Mater Dei highlight video rolled on two Jumbotrons before individual player and coach introductions capped the ceremony.

That was the primer.

Star-struck by the three-time defending state champions and their theatrics, St. Augustine trailed 17-4 in the first five minutes. It would worsen by as many as 28.

The Saints (28-4) eventually bowed 65-38 to the No. 1 nationally ranked Monarchs (32-0) Friday night in the Southern California Regional Open Division quarterfinals, ending St. Augustine’s season with two consecutive losses.

San Diego boys teams fell to 1-11 in the state playoffs.

“We came out a little tentative,” said St. Augustine coach Mike Haupt. “Maybe that was my fault. You don’t know how to prepare for something you haven’t really seen. We got their attention in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to eight points because we figured out how to get a few open shots. But we couldn’t get over the hump.”

Arizona commit and McDonald’s All-American Stanley Johnson, a senior forward who ranks as the nation’s No. 3 basketball prospect, bested his Mr. Basketball competitor Trey Kell, tallying 18 to the San Diego State commit’s 11 points and six rebounds.

In his St. Augustine finale, Kell fouled out with 4:45 to play in the final period following a 4-for-13 shooting performance, including 0-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line. He ends his career as the San Diego Section Player of the Year along with a state Division III championship as a junior.

“I saw (Trey) hit seven 3-pointers, so we put Rex (Plueger), our best defender, on him and tried to help when he penetrated,” said Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight.

The Saints shot 29.5 percent from the field as a whole, were outrebounded 39-28 and registered six more fouls than the Monarchs, who produced three players in double figures. They overwhelmed St Augustine with their backcourt size.

“San Diego doesn’t have a lot of guys the size of (Johnson) and (M.J.) Cage who’s 6-feet-10,” Haupt said.

“You just aren’t used to that, so it was tough keeping them off the boards and tough feeling the bumps when you drive in the lane to try to finish in traffic.”

Added Kell: “If you go out, this is the opponent you want to go out to: the best team in the nation who is led by one of the best players in the nation. You couldn’t ask for a better matchup, although you would have liked it to be a better outcome.”

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