Inland Empire: SoCal Regional Finalist, Rialto

ESPNLA is taking a closer look this week at the Inland Empire basketball teams that qualified for the Southern California Regional championship games Saturday at USC's Galen Center. Today, the spotlight is on the Rialto girls' basketball team, which plays Ventura Buena in the Division 2 final at 2 p.m.

RIALTO (32-3).

League: San Andreas.

Resume: The Knights won their first 12 games by an average margin of 48 points. They finally ran into some trouble during the Chino Hills Ayala Best of the West tournament in late December, losing back-to-back games against La Puente Bishop Amat and Fontana Summit. Rialto made headlines in late January when it defeated San Bernardino Cajon, 43-41, to end its 85-game league winning streak. The Knights cruised through their first two Southern Section Division 2AA playoff games before the competition stiffened. The top-seeded Knights beat Norco by six points in the quarterfinals, then edged Inglewood by three before defeating Buena on last-second shot in the championship game. Rialto posted another two-point win in its opening game of the regional playoffs against Canyon Country Canyon, then beat North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, 76-60, to set up a rematch with Buena.

Roster: Rialto features one of the premier playmakers in the Inland Empire in senior guard Janae’ Sharpe. It was Sharpe who scored the game-winner against Buena the first time around. Sharpe, who has signed with Cal State Northridge, is averaging close to 26 points a game. If Sharpe isn’t on, the Knights can usually depend on junior center Denae Williams, who had 25 points and 19 rebounds in the semifinal win against Harvard-Westlake. Rialto point guard Summer Webb is also a key figure. She scored 18 points in the section final against Buena, including three 3-pointers in the final quarter.

Reality: Buena didn’t take its loss to Rialto very well, so you can bet the Bulldogs have been eagerly awaiting the rematch. Gonzaga-bound guard Keani Albanez scored 27 points in a semifinal victory against Westview and 29 in Buena’s opening victory against Palisades. If she can get the better of the match up against Sharpe, the Bulldogs have a good chance of winning. Otherwise, expect the Knights to be a couple points better.

Result: Rialto 65, Buena 62.