CARSON -- Jason Hart didn’t know any of his players when he stepped into the Woodland Hills Taft gym for the first time last summer. All he knew, really, was that he had big shoes to fill after longtime coach Derrick Taylor left for St. John Bosco.
It’s safe to say Hart, in his first year coaching high school basketball, knows his team well now. The 33-year-old coach -- who wears cardigans, jeans and sneakers on the sideline -- has picked up right where the successful Taylor left off.
Top-seeded Taft advanced to its fifth consecutive CIF-Los Angeles City Section Division I championship game Saturday, hanging on to beat fifth-seeded Crenshaw, 64-63, at the Torodome on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“I think this proves that a young coach can get the job done if they know what they’re doing,” Hart said. “This team was brand new to me. This means a lot, not just for me but the kids. They fought hard. They’re the ones that deserve the credit.”
Taft (27-3), the defending section champion, clicked quickly following Taylor’s departure. The Toreadors bought into Hart’s philosophy. They believed in him.
“That’s why we’re in the championship game.” said Hart, who played nine seasons in the NBA.
Senior forward Anthony January dunked his way to a game-high 24 points, and also pulled down 10 rebounds. Guards Steve Jones and Kris Yanku each had 14 points in support.
The Toreadors built a 21-point lead but carelessness allowed Crenshaw (24-5) to chop away. A 3-pointer from Brandon Baker pulled the Cougars to within five with 45 seconds remaining, Crenshaw got another defensive stop and a spectacular left-handed scoop shot from Andre Edwards, and the Taft lead was trimmed to three with 15 seconds left.
January was fouled and made one of two free throws. Edwards responded with a 3-pointer at the other end but, with only one tick remaining, all Taft had to do was inbound the ball to win. Crenshaw had its best season under fifth-year coach Ed Waters, but was knocked off by Taft for the third time in the last four years.
“Crenshaw is a scrappy team,” January said. “They played hard and came back.”
January, who transferred to Taft before the season, reached a CIF-Southern Section title game in 2010 as a sophomore at Compton but lost.
“Now I can redeem myself,” January said. “I want to help my team get that championship.”
And, if that happens, Hart will be known as the young coach that could.
Dorsey 62, Westchester 59
They don’t call basketball a game of runs for nothing.
Seventh-seeded Dorsey continued its dream run, shocking third-seeded Westchester after falling behind by 17 points in the City Section semifinals at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
The Dons trailed by 16 after the first quarter, by 15 at halftime and by five heading into the fourth. They outscored Westchester 21-13 in the final quarter, jumping ahead for good following a loud dunk by Donald Muepo with less than three minutes left. Muepo had a team-high 18 points for Dorsey (27-7).
“We fought,” Dorsey coach Kevin Gibson said. “That’s what we’re about right now: Fighting, fighting, fighting.”
The Dons had reached the game after upsetting second-seeded Fairfax, 47-46, with a game-winner in the final seconds. The Division I championship is scheduled for Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m., also at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
"Hopefully we can win this next game, it's going to be real tough," Gibson said. "But I'm with this team right here."
Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.