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March 21, 2012Who: Price Knights (27-8) vs. Salesian Pride (33-2)
Where: Power Balance Arena, Sacramento
When: Friday, March 23, 1 p.m.
Why to Watch
There might not be a hotter team in Southern California than the Price Knights, who powered through their half of the CIF State Division IV bracket by taking down top seeds La Verne Lutheran and Serra in consecutive games. The Knights got spirited play from senior Khalil Johnson, who scored 17 points in the first half against top-seeded Serra, giving Price a much-needed third option behind top-flight prospects Skylar Spencer and Chance Murray. They're going to need that hot play from Johnson to continue, as they'll be going up against one of the top teams in the state in Richmond Salesian.
The Pride is led by one of the top juniors in junior small forward Jabari Bird to go along with a host of other talented athletes. Behind them, Salesian has blown out its three state playoff opponents by an average of 35 points. Which team can finish out its dazzling postseason run and take home a state championship?
The Knights are long and athletic and have a pair of athletes who are capable of dominating games in power forward Skylar Spencer and guard Chance Murray. Both players are athletic and capable of scoring in bunches, which will be critical in such a tightly fought game.
Adding a third dimension to the scoring has been Khalil Johnson. The 6-foot-7 senior gives Price a second dimension inside to complement the dynamic Spencer. Johnson is particularly active on the offensive glass. While Spencer faces up and takes defenders off the dribble on forays at the rim, Johnson is often left alone to roam the weakside, where he'll crash the offensive boards for easy rebounds and putbacks. Getting easy buckets will be critical in this game for the Knights, who could struggle to keep up with Salesian's scoring pace.
Led by the ultra-athletic Jabari Bird, the Pride have decimated every postseason opponent in its path. The 6-foot-5, rail-thin slasher is a multi-faceted player who can blow by defenders on drives to the basket, while displaying a smooth mid-range jumper. He's a much-improved passer who can find open teammates. While he's built like a string bean, Bird is an underrated rebounder, especially at the offensive end, where he can use his athleticism and leaping ability to crash the boards.
The rest of Salesian's roster is filled with athletic slashers. Forwards Jermaine Edmonds and Jeffrey Parker are capable scorers who benefit from the extra attention Bird draws. The Pride also have two decent guards in Markel Leonard and freshman DeMar Dunn. Football star Freddie Tagaloa also sees minutes, but is far more suited to grass than hardwood, but the 6-foot-8, 310-pound center flashes the ability to control the glass.
Matchup to Watch
Knights' shooting guard Chance Murray vs. Pride shooting guard Markel Leonard
Murray is Price's best outside scoring threat, a capable outside shooter who excels at attacking the basket and getting easy looks for teammates. The 6-foot-3 junior has a size advantage over any of Salesian's guards, which could allow Murray to bully the Pride's backcourt on dribble drives and midrange jumpers. If he's on and scores in bunches, that'll force Salesian coach Bill Mellis to send extra attention to defending the perimeter, which will open up the inside for Spencer and Johnson to go to work.
Bird is the most talented player in this game, and the basketball team with the best player in the game usually wins. This game could go either way, but we like the Pride in a close one.
Salesian 64, Price 62
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