By Fred J. Robledo
ANAHEIM — There will be no third CIF-Southern Section divisional title in five years for the La Verne Lutheran boys basketball team. The two-time defending state champions in Division 3 and 5 respectively will have to set its sights on next week’s state tournament.
Top-ranked Gardena Serra made sure of that.
Serra’s dominant duo of Daddy Ugbede and Dakarai Tucker scored 32 and 21 points respectively to lead the Cavaliers to a 69-59 victory over the Trojans in Thursday’s Division 4AA championship at the Anaheim Arena.
The turning point came when the Trojans’ 6-foot-10 McDonald’s All-American center Grant Jerrett picked up his fourth foul with 1:32 left in the third quarter and the game hanging in the balance.
In a game that featured 15 lead changes and nine ties, the last thing the Trojans could afford was to lose minutes and aggression with its Arizona-bound standout, who left with the Trojans trailing 39-38 and returned with them trailing 52-48 with 5:51 left.
“We had to play small ball (with Jerrett in foul trouble) and eventually it caught up with us,” Lutheran coach Eric Cooper said. “They went up by a few points and even though we put Grant back in with about six minutes left, he couldn’t play aggressively and they scored layups at will.
“It was pretty tough to watch it. To watch him go down like that in foul trouble, it is what it is.” (To continue click thread).
Jerrett finished with a team-high 19 points, five rebounds and thoroughly shutdown Cavaliers 6-foot-10 center Emmanual Ndumanya, who finished just one-for-nine with two points.
Eric Cooper Jr., finished with 12 points and Brian Beard helped keep the Trojans within striking distance by scoring all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter, but the Trojans didn’t have an answer for Ugbede down the stretch.
The 6-foot-7 forward attacked the paint and nailed 14 of 20 shots. And though Ugbede picked up third foul early in the third quarter, he returned soon after Jerrett picked up his fourth foul and he finished strong, scoring 13 of the Cavaliers’ 26 points in the fourth quarter.
“We came in and wanted to play good defense and definitely wanted to stop Jerrett and Cooper because we knew they were the key,” Serra coach Dwan Hurt said. “Once we got Jerrett into foul trouble Daddy pretty much had his way down low and we wanted to continue to feed him.”
Lutheran’s big concern was limiting the Cavaliers’ opportunities on the boards and second chance points.
Not only did Serra dominate the boards, out-rebounding the Trojans 36-20, it dominated the offensive glass with 17 offensive boards to the Trojans’ four.
“I’m a firm believer whoever controls the boards controls the game and that’s what we talked about at practice,” Hurt said. “We have a lot of screen out drills and I told them if we take charges and if we rebound we’ll win the game.”
Neither team led by more than three points in a first half that featured 11 lead changes and a 28-26 Cavaliers lead at the break.
After Ugbede picked up his third foul with 6:03 left in the quarter and the Cavaliers up 29-28, Tucker hit back-to-back three-pointers to extend the Cavaliers’ lead to 35-28.
The Trojans climbed back and cut the lead to 35-33 after McKay Anderson’s block led to a fast break with Cooper scoring and finishing a three-point play with 3:37 left in the third.
Cameron Osorno’s bucket to end the third quarter tied the score 43-43, but with Jerrett limited, the Cavaliers outscored the Trojans 26-16 in the fourth to close it out.
“It hurts a lot because it’s a championship game, “Jerrett said. “You obviously want to go out with a bang. It’s hurts to get that fourth foul. It feels like you’re just limited.”
Serra improved to 29-2 and the Trojans are 23-7 heading into next week’s state playoffs.
“We have to get ready for state and you have to feel the pain of coming here and losing in the biggest game of some of these guys careers,” Cooper said. “But they battled and because they battled I’m not mad at them at all because they went out fighting.
“They know they were in the game and if we play them (Serra) again they know it will be a game again. I look forward to state and seeing what these guys do when they step on the court again.”
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