ANAHEIM -- The California state basketball championships may be three weeks away, but the fans who filled much of the Anaheim Convention Center Arena on Saturday got a good look at a de facto state championship.
The teams ranked 1-2 in California met with a Southern Section Championship banner at stake, and they brought with them sizable winning streaks and histories.
Mater Dei won its 21st section title -- now two more than defending champion Poly -- but it was hardly in the kind of convincing fashion that makes it a can't miss on its way to another state title.
The top-seeded Monarchs, with four starters back from last year's state champion, held off Poly, 63-59, in a decision that very nearly got away from them.
Stanley Johnson was very active in the closing moments for Mater Dei (29-2), and not always in a good way. The Mater Dei sophomore made one of two free throws with 1:11 remaining to give Mater Dei a 60-58 advantage, and after Xavier Johnson made it 61-59 with 28 seconds left, the spotlight seemed solely directed on Stanley Johnson -- who is not relatied to Xavier.
With a chance to put the screws to Poly, Johnson missed a pair of free throws with 16.2 seconds left. Five seconds later, after missing an anguish-inducing first shot from the charity stripe that teased fans of both schools, he converted the second for a 62-59 lead. Then he stole the ball with three seconds remaining and made the second of two free throws for the four-point final margin.
Although Johnson wasn't perfect, he certainly made an impression on coach Gary McKnight, who talked to Johnson while the rest of the team was being introduced afterward.
"You showed you are an All-American tonight," McKnight recalled telling his prized 6-foot-7 sophomore.
Stanley Johnson had 14 points in a complementary role to Xavier Johnson, who had 19 points and 20 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive end, and Katin Reinhardt, who had 17 points, eight rebounds. Eli Stalzer added 11 points, and Jordan Strawberry had two points but four assists and three steals.
Mater Dei outrebounded Poly, 44-32, including 21-15 on the offensive end.
"That was No. 1 on our list of priorities," McKnight said. "Rebounds."
Chris Croom had 19 points and Roschon Prince 16 before fouling out for Poly (26-2). Prince was 3-for-12 from the field, largely guarded by Stanley Johnson. Joshua Munzon had nine points and three of Poly's eight 3-point baskets before fouling out; Croom also had three threes.
Mater Dei led at halftime, 27-21, as neither team played particularly well; Mater Dei shot 26.7 percent from the field, and that was better than Poly's 25 percent.
The Monarchs stretched the lead to 49-41 in the third quarter, despite three consecutive 3-point baskets by Croom that cut an 11-point deficit to 45-39 with 1:04 left.
Although Croom had the hot hand, he didn't get many opportunities after that, but Munzon hit a three and Jordan Bell's steal and dunk made it 53-47. Prince's free throws pulled the Jackrabbits to 53-50 with 4:27 left in the game, and they eventually pulled to within a point, 59-58, on Munzon's 3-pointer with 1:27 remaining.
Then it was Stanley Johnson's game, seemingly to win or lose.