Can they do it? Ten days ago, that question would have been asked of Mater Dei (30-1), and it would have been all about whether the Monarchs can beat Brea Olinda (31-2) on Saturday, 2 p.m., in the Southern California Regional Division II finals.
Over the last two seasons, Mater Dei has won 62 of 64 games, including 13 in row since losing to Brea at home, 47-43, on Jan. 18. Mater Dei is ranked No. 4 in the nation by ESPN Rise, and the only team to beat the Monarchs in that span is third-ranked Brea. Both times, Mater Dei was undefeated, both times it was ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Going into this highly anticipated showdown at the Galen Center, the mental aspect was the most intriguing part of the equation. That changed on March 11 when Brea lost junior point guard Alexis Perry to a torn ACL, MCL and Meniscus.
It was about as bad a break as Brea could have as it attempts to win a second consecutive state title and 10th overall. You must have a point guard to break Mater Dei's press. If you can't break the press, you can't beat Mater Dei.
Can they do it? Can Brea beat a titan such as Mater Dei without a point guard? Perry was not only a catalyst on offense, but also an outstanding defensive player for Brea, which must try to stop junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sophomore Jordan Adams, two of the nation's best players in their class.
“You can count on Brea kids coming to play,” said Jeff Sink, Brea's coach. “We certainly play team ball, that helps us. If we can handle the pressure reasonably well, I think it will be a game. If their press crunches us, there's nothing we can do.”
With the likes of guard Kelsey Harris and forwards Jeanier Olukemi and Keitra Wallace, Brea remains one of the best passing teams around. When they take the floor, those three will still have beaten Mater Dei twice past two seasons. And the Monarchs are still going to have to get past that Brea mystique.
“They've got to beat us, and until they do, we have an edge,” Sink said. “Until you knock somebody off that's been a nemesis, you have a psychological advantage. How much that has been minimized (by the injury), we'll see. If I was sitting in Mater Dei's shoes I'd be a lot more confident than I was 10 days ago.”
Make no mistake, Mater Dei will be a lot more confident. Question is, will it finally be enough?