ANAHEIM -- Looking at the final box score, Julius Bilbrew didn't shoot particularly well during Saturday's Southern Section championship game. However, each and every time the Inglewood High boys' basketball team needed a big play, the senior guard managed to find a way to deliver.
Interestingly enough, when the Sentinels needed him the most in the Division 3A final against North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, things did not go according to plan. It was not Bilbrew's fault either, Inglewood could not get the ball into the hands of its playmaker.
Trailing by a basket with less than two minutes left on the fourth quarter clock, the Wolverines focused their efforts on stopping Bilbrew. The strategy worked too, Inglewood struggled down the stretch and Harvard-Westlake ended up prevailing with a 47-45 victory at the Anaheim Convention Center.
“We wanted to get Julius the ball, he's one of our top scorers, but they made things difficult on us,'' Sentinels coach Pat Roy said. “We went into desperation mode and had to take whatever we could get at one point. It was a tough way to lose and no one likes losing.''
Give the top-seeded Wolverines (27-4) some credit, they relied on their strength throughout, which is size. Damiene Cain and Zena Edosomwan, both of whom are 6-foot-7, combined for 23 points, 26 rebounds and five blocks against third-seeded Ingelwood (24-7).
Rest assured, Cain and Edosomwan were focused on Bilbrew in the waning moments, there was no way the tandem was going to let the sharp-shooter beat them.
“I was going to block anything and everything,'' Cain said.
Inglewood played well in the first half and trailed by a mere three points. The Wolverines, however, flexed their muscle underneath the basket thereafter.
Cain and Edosomwan scored on a number of baskets from close range. It appeared as if Inglewood had no answer. And when Lewis Dix tipped in a missed shot just before the buzzer sounded, Harvard-Westlake had a 40-28 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Sentinels battled back behind Rhon Mitchell. His back-to-back baskets sparked a rally and help cut the deficit to 42-40 with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter.
“We made things interesting, we made things exciting, we have a tendency to do that, I'm not quite sure why we do that,'' Wolverines coach Greg Hillard said. “I think we were fortunate that clock ran out and we were still ahead at the end of the game.''
Both teams struggled to mount much of an offensive threat early on. Jordan Butler managed to play fairly well though and scored five points in the opening eight minutes to help Harvard-Westlake take a 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Sentinels quickly settled down and took a 13-10 advantage with 6:48 remaining in the first half of play when Bilbrew scored on a layup.
Edosomwan took over from there. In the second quarter, he scored six points and added five rebounds to give the Wolverines a three-point lead at the break.
Bilbrew finished with a game-high 15 points, on 6-of-18 shooting from the field. He also added nine rebounds and two blocks for the Sentinels.
“I felt like I was in a good rhythm, I was always ready to shoot,'' Bilbrew said.
Mitchell finished with 10 points.
Butler ended up with 10 points.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.