Los Angeles, Calif. -- In the storied rivalry between CIF L.A. City Section powers Westchester of Los Angeles and Fairfax of Los Angeles, the game played on Wednesday night at Gersten Pavilion on the campus of Loyola Marymount University might have been the most thrilling game since both became statewide and national powers.
Unfortunately someone had to lose.
Just four days after he sank one of two free throws to clinch a 62-61 victory over national power St. Patrick's of Elizabeth, New Jersey at the NIKE Extravaganza, 6-foot-3 Fairfax junior Lance Bailey stepped to the free throw line with .2 seconds remaining in double overtime and his team trailing by one point. With 19 seconds left and Westchester holding on to a 71-70 lead, Fairfax (21-4, 10-1 in Western League) worked the ball around to try and get a good look and possibly regain the lead.
At the end of the possession, 6-foot-10 junior center Renardo Sidney was forced to take a three-pointer right in front of the Lions' bench with the seconds ticking down. Sidney's shot was long, but Bailey clearly had inside rebounding position on Westchester's Kareem Jamar, a 6-foot-4 sophomore. Jamar was called for a pushing foul underneath the basket and it looked like the Lions would escape with a victory or send the game into a third overtime if Bailey could sink both or one of his shots from the charity stripe.
Bailey missed the first one badly and after the second free throw ironed off, Westchester (25-3, 10-1) celebrated its 71-70 double overtime win that avenged the 68-63 loss at Fairfax on January 18, putting both teams in a tie for first place in the Western League with one regular season game remaining.
"As far as those free throws, it is what it is," remarked Fairfax head coach Harvey Kitani. "We have to regroup and make a correction of the mental mistakes we made. Yes, we had our chances to win, but it was a good, hard fought game. I'm proud of the way our team fought back there (in the first overtime)."
The game was deadlocked at 59 at the end of regulation after Westchester senior guard Oscar Bellfield drove through the lane and didn't get a good look. With Sidney rotating over for a possible shot block attempt, a mad scramble for the rebound ensued and 5-foot-10 guard Dominique O'Connor came up with a lay-up on the left side of the basket, but his bucket came after a shot clock violation was called. There was a two second differential between the game clock and the shot clock and that detail was missed by a majority of the onlookers. Sidney was able to get off a low percentage three-point shot after a heave downfield but it wasn't close to going in.
In overtime, the Comets took control after 6-foot-3 Darius Singletary of Fairfax was called for an intentional foul on O'Connor with Westchester leading 61-59. Between the two foul shots given to O'Connor and the two technical fouls shots that senior Jarred Dubois attempted, Westchester was only able to come up with two points. They were able to take a 65-59 lead, however, after 6-foot-8 senior Cordell Hadnot nailed a half hook over Sidney.
That's when the Lions roared back.
After a Sidney bucket, 6-foot-3 senior Chris Solomon nailed a three-pointer to make the score 65-64 in favor of Westchester, (which came into the game ranked No. 26 in the Rivals.com FAB 50 and No. 6 in the state) with 2:04 remaining in the first overtime. Fairfax was able to tie the game at 65-65 when Singletary made one of two free throws after Dubois had fouled out with 1:04 remaining. Westchester sophomore Dwayne Polee took a go-ahead jumper with 44.2 seconds left, but the shot was off and on the other end Sidney was fouled. He made both ends of a one-and-one situation to give Fairfax (ranked No. 23 in the Rivals.com FAB 50 and No. 5 in the state) a 67-65 lead with 34.5 seconds left on the clock.
Similar to the end of regulation, Bellfield drove on Sidney with 18 seconds left and nine on the shot clock but was unable to convert, but with one second left Hadnot tipped in the carom off the glass to send the game into double overtime.
"The big kid (Sidney) is tough to match up with, but Cordell's tip-in was huge," remarked Westchester head coach Ed Azzam in a happy but relieved tone. "I thought we made more mistakes than they did, but I'm proud of the way our kids kept their composure."
In the second overtime, Westchester took a 71-68 lead on a breakaway lay-up by 6-foot-2 sophomore Jordin Mayes, but Fairfax answered with an alley-oop dunk by Sidney to make the score 71-70 with 50 seconds remaining. On Westchester's next possession, Bellfield was forced to heave a NBA range three-pointer and when the shot caromed long, Sidney was able to secure the rebound and call timeout before falling out of bounds with 19 second left. Then came the last sequence of the game that ended with Bailey's missed free throws.
Although he only had six points on three of five shooting in the first half, Sidney, rated a top five national junior by StudentSportsBasketball.com, came alive after intermission. With the halftime score knotted up at 29, Sidney made seven of eight two-point field goal attempts in the second half and two overtime periods and finished with 25 points. He also collected nine rebounds in the second half and the only three pointer he missed was the last one before Bailey's rebound attempt. For the game, Sidney made 10 of 13 two point goals, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished off two assists, came up with a steal, blocked two shots and committed three turnovers. In the five-point win over Westchester in the first round of league play, Sidney went for season highs of 36 points and 19 rebounds.
While Sidney came alive in the second half, the star of the first half was clearly Westchester's O'Connor. He made two of four two-point field goals, all three of his shots from three-point range and one of two free throws for a total of 14 points. For the game, he finished 11 of 19 from the field with four three-pointers and made three of five three throws for a game-high 29 points.
"He caught some cramps in the second half, but O'Connor was outstanding in the first half," said Azzam, whose 603rd career win ended a five game losing streak to Fairfax. "I thought Polee played big down the stretch, too."
Although he made only one field goal, a highlight alley-oop dunk that gave Westchester a 59-56 lead with one minute to go in the fourth quarter, Polee made his presence felt on the glass. He finished with a team-high 10 rebounds and tipped many other balls into teammates' hands, including twice on the possession in which Hadnot tipped in the ball to send the game to a second overtime.
Without Polee, Westchester would have been at a huge disadvantage on the glass as they were out rebounded 18-13 in the first half and 33-28 for the game. On the other hand, without 6-foot-6 junior forward Solomon Hill, Fairfax probably would have lost in regulation, as he played a solid all-around game to follow up his 22-point, 11-rebound effort against St. Patrick's. He finished with eight points, five assists and nine rebounds plus an important tip that put the ball in Sidney's hands to complete a conventional three-point play to tie the game at 59 after Polee's dunk.
Before Wednesday night, the last time the Comets have beaten their archrivals was in the 2006 L.A. City Section title game. Fairfax won all four meetings during the 2006-2007 season when they went on to win the Div. I state title, including a 77-44 rout in the Div. I Southern Regional Final. If the Wednesday prediction of Azzam is correct, the Comets and Lions could be headed for a huge L.A. City Section playoff semifinal showdown this season.
"Taft beat us at our own tournament early in the season so I think they deserve the No. 1 seed," Azzam explained. "We split with Fairfax, so it's up to the committee. It doesn't really matter to me, whoever they put us up against we'll be ready."
If that playoff match up does take place, it will be interesting to see which venue will be used and what precautions school administrators and the Los Angeles Unified School District will take in light of a shooting incident approximately 20 minutes after the completion of Wednesday night's game.
There was a police presence inside Gersten Pavilion throughout and after the game, as fans from the rival schools were instructed to sit on opposite sides of the court. Afterwards, however, the fans dispersed all at once with a majority leaving via the entrance onto Loyola Boulevard. As we walked southbound on Loyola Boulevard we heard groups of youth that just attended the basketball game talking about a possible shooting moments after witnessing firsthand a large group of youth running eastbound on W. 80th Street, perpendicular to the 800 block of Loyola Boulevard.
At approximately 9:45 p.m., as we approached the corner of Loyola Blvd. and W. 80th St. on foot, a late-model Chrysler Sebring traveling East on W. 80th St. pulled up in front of a police cruiser with a female screaming out the passenger side window that, "He's been shot, he's been shot."
The suspects fled in a compact car and a Hummer sport-utility vehicle, KNBC Channel 4 reported. LAPD, Public Safety and L.A. Unified School District police responded immediately, apprehending three suspects according to the Los Angeles Loyolan. Contrary to those reports, however, the Associated Press reported that the victim was a young adult hospitalized in stable condition with a shoulder wound and no immediate arrests were made. "We've gotten conflicting reports about the shooter being in a vehicle or on foot," said Sgt. John Martin of the Los Angeles Police Department's Pacific Station.
In the car, what we witnessed was an unidentified male youth slumped over in the rear driver side seat and he appeared to have been shot in the lower back under his arm pit. The Sebring was sitting right in front of the Loyola Boulevard entrance to LMU for approximately five minutes before the police dispersed onlookers, rerouted vehicles west on to W. 80 St. and aided the driver in moving the vehicle approximately 20 yards eastbound along the right side curb of W. 80th St.
Approximately twelve minutes after the witnesses in the vehicle informed police of the shooting, an ambulance arrived to aid the victim. According to bystanders standing on the northwest corner of W. 80th St., the victim was a Westchester student but other reports stated the victim was 19 or 20 years old. No details were immediately available in regards to the victim's injuries or if those injuries were life-threatening.