St. Mary’s girls basketball, the No. 1 seed in the state and the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Open Division champion, faces who it’s wanted all year — Southern California champion Santa Ana-Mater Dei.
The Rams (33-1) and Monarchs (31-2) play for the CIF State Open Division title at 6 p.m. Saturday at Cal’s Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
St. Mary’s coach Tom Gonsalves stated Saturday that he’s thought Mater Dei is the best team in the country all year. And, he added, he thinks his group is pretty good, too. My “Know Thine Enemy” blog returns to break down Mater Dei.
MATER DEI MONARCHS
Record: 31-2, 8-0 Trinity League
2014-15 Resume: Trinity League champions, lost to West Hills-Chaminade in Southern Section Open Division championship game.
Playoff History: Mater Dei has four CIF State championships, in 1996 and three consecutive banners from 2010-12. The Monarchs also have five Southern California championships, including ’95 when they lost the state title game.
Head-to-head: Mater Dei is 2-0 against St. Mary’s the past decade, winning 81-72 on Dec. 30, 2013, and 66-60 on Dec. 22, 2009. In the most recent matchup, current Rams Mi’Cole Cayton, Carlissa Shipp, Angel Johnson, Sydney Fadal, Sierra Smith, Kat Tudor and Naje Murray all played.
Key Player: No. 33 Katie Lou Samuelson (6-foot-3 forward, Sr.) — Samuelson, a UConn commit and the Gatorade CIF State Girls Player of the Year, is the top-rated senior in the country, and will be the ultimate test for the Rams’ phenomenal freshman in 6-2 Aquira DeCosta.
My thoughts on Mater Dei: I caught a brief glimpse of the Monarchs at St. Mary’s MLK Showcase in January. When Samuelson is struggling to shoot or briefly off the court, they certainly look mortal, but if she’s on her game Saturday it’ll be difficult for DeCosta and company. It may be Mater Dei’s year, having experienced that painful loss to Chaminade in the section playoffs to drive them. Yet, for a team with mostly freshmen, sophomores and juniors, the Rams play with an incredible confidence and experience. Look for the junior Angel Johnson to help double-team Samuelson and try and make other Monarchs beat them. Plus, with St. Mary’s press, there ain’t much time for halfcourt offense, anyway.
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