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CIF Finals Friday and Saturday: The Rundown

It's now time for the larger divisions to take the stage, as the CIF Finals weekend continues with the Open through Division 3 champions being crowned at four sites Friday and Saturday.

Here's what you need to know about each matchup.

CIF Open Division Championship,

(1) Carlsbad (28-2) vs (3) Montgomery (28-2), 5 p.m. Saturday, RIMAC Arena, UC San Diego

Head to Head Record: 12/23, Montgomery def. Carlsbad 63-55

Key Players for Carlsbad: Jake Hall, Jr. G; Tony Duckett, Sr. G; Jael Martin, Sr. F; Tristan Guzman, Sr. G; Jordan Garner, Jr. G; Euan Davis, Sr. G; Will Cianfrini, Sr. F; Deuce Sims, Sr. G

Key Players for Montgomery: JJ Sanchez, Jr. F; Xair Mendez, Jr. G; Devin Hamilton, Jr. W; Alek Sanchez, Jr. G; David Soto, Sr. W; Xavier Guerrero, So. F

Road to the Finals:

Montgomery: Defeated (6) Mission Hills 49-41 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (2) St. Augustine 56-39 in the semifinals.

Carlsbad: Defeated (8) Cathedral Catholic 104-64 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (5) La Jolla Country Day 77-65 in the semifinals.

The Rundown: Both teams come into the biggest game of the season with big question marks. For Carlsbad, Martin, who is headed to Pepperdine and has been a stabilizing defensive force in his lone season in San Diego, missed the semifinals with an injury. His availability is unknown. Montgomery will be without Xair Mendez, the team's third leading scorer and All Mesa First team performer, after he was ejected from the semifinals game against St. Augustine due to his role in an altercation. The team able to absorb the key loss best will have the upper hand.

In the team's first matchup, Montgomery's stellar defense and a stellar performance from Mendez (23 points) propelled the Aztecs to the win in a game they controlled from the outset. Carlsbad hasn't lost since, as their star trio of Hall, Duckett and Martin has overwhelmed teams during their undefeated run through the Coastal League and the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic National Division. They will need the supporting cast to be at their A game to counteract the Aztecs defense, which is quickly becoming one of the best in recent section memory.

CIF Division 1 Championship

(2) Mission Bay (20-11) vs (8) Scripps Ranch (20-11), 7:30 p.m. Friday, Otay Ranch HS

Head to Head Record: Teams did not play

Key Players for Mission Bay: Caleb Newton, So. G; Charlie Hutchison, Sr. F; Gavin Girouard, Sr. G; Marcos Korch, Sr. G; Isaah Whitehurst, Sr. G; Clay Grebing, So. F; Charlie Grebing, Sr. F; Pablo Balderas, Jr. F; Atreju de la Cruz, Jr. G

Key Players for Scripps Ranch: Kai Brown, Sr. G; Bryce Bailey, Sr. G; Rowen Wimmer, Sr. G; Dominic Stevens, Jr. F; Runnar Miller, So. F; Sawyer Flint, Jr. G; Charlie Barajas, So. F; Dominic Procopio, Jr. F

Road to the Finals:

Mission Bay: Defeated (15) Poway, 74-45 in the 1st round; Defeated (7) Del Norte 52-44 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (3) San Marcos 52-42 in the semifinals.

Scripps Ranch: Defeated (9) Francis Parker 64-62 (OT) in the 1st round; Defeated (1) Santa Fe Christian 61-50 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (4) El Camino 65-62 in the semifinals.

The Rundown:

For Mission Bay, the chance to win a D1 championship a year after falling short in the same game would be a strong consolation for a team that struggled to live up to preseason expectations (they were in my preseason Top 5), but is playing their best basketball at the right time. Marshawn Cherry's group has coalesced around the star duo of Hutchison and Newton, who arrived at the Bucs on the eve of the season. The supporting cast around them is very deep, with Girouard, a two-time all Western-League performer, being the most consistent offensive weapon, and Korch, a three-year varsity guy, being the defensive anchor on the perimeter.

Scripps Ranch also comes in playing its best basketball of a season that has been full of tumult following the sudden resignation of head coach Brock Flint midseason. They have won 9 of their final 10 games after a stunning loss to Coronado in early January, and Kai Brown, who has played much of the season on a badly sprained ankle, has taken his game to another level. A win here would give him his second CIF championship of his career, the first coming as a sophomore at St. Augustine. Around him is a group that plays hard defensively and has a couple of solid offensive options in Miller, a transfer from Madison, and Wimmer, a jack of all trades guard who provides leadership in spades.

CIF Division 2 Championship

(1) Rancho Buena Vista (24-7) vs (3) University City (23-8), 7:30 p.m. Friday at San Marcos HS

Head to Head Record: Teams did not play

Key Players for Rancho Buena Vista: CJ Aldrich, So. G; Ayden Horn, Jr. W; Trent Loitito, Sr. G; Shay Todd, Sr. F; Matthew Horn, Jr. F; Caden Keys, Jr. F; Isaiah Justice, Jr. G

Key Players for University City: Dylan Griffin Jr. W; Ben Gavani, Sr. F; Ash Aka, Sr. G; Jesse Wood, Sr. G; Ival Momoh, Sr. W; Luca Anzaldua Bertholdo, Sr. G; Tyshawn Harris, Jr. G

Road to the Finals:

For Rancho Buena Vista: Defeated (16) Calexico 87-52 in the first round; Defeated (8) Mt. Carmel 84-57 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (5) Sage Creek 62-59 in the semifinals

For University City: Defeated (14) Canyon Crest Academy 74-63 in the first round; Defeated (6) Eastlake 57-51 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (2) Victory Christian 66-63 in the semifinals

The Rundown:

These were the two teams among the top four seeds that hadn't faced each other during the regular season. For the Longhorns, they've only gotten stronger from last season's semifinals rout at the hands of Victory Christian, posting the program's best record since the 2018-19 season. Aldrich has blossomed into a full-on star in Year 2, and Ayden Horn has transformed himself into a college prospect, notching an offer from CSU San Marcos in the later part of the season. Coach Aaron Abrams has a short bench that got noticeably shorter on the eve of the playoffs when Justice broke his collarbone. Going six deep, he's got little margin for error against a very good and physical University City squad.

The Centurions withstood the defection of last year's leading scorer, Jaeden Robley, who transferred to West Ranch following the summer. Emerging in his wake has been Griffin, the athletic 6-4 wing who terrorized Eastern League opponents en route to player of the year honors. Gavani, a three-year varsity starter, is a steady presence in the pivot, and the guard trio of Wood, Aka and Anzaldua-Bertholdo has been unheralded. The X-factor for the group is Momoh, who transferred from Mission Hills with little fanfare and has become the team's lockdown perimeter defender. Expect him to get the first crack at Aldrich, who was co-player of the year in the Avocado League.

CIF Division 3 Championship

(1) Olympian (27-3) vs (3) Monte Vista (23-8), 5 p.m. Friday at Clairemont HS

Head to Head results: Olympian 2-0; 51-50 on 11/21 and 61-51 on 1/2

Key Players for Olympian: Sammell Humphries, So. G; Jordan Walker, So. G; Tristan Anderson, Fr. G; Isaiah Aquino, Sr. G; Nathan Cacao, Sr. F; Xaiver King, So. F; Yaseen Chemsi, So. F; Isaiah Cardeno, So. G; Nijil Sherrard, So. G

Key Players for Monte Vista: Dorian Fillmore, Sr. W; Derek Sykes, Sr. G; Yousif Al-Asady, Sr. G; Jalen Brown, Sr. W; Kemarie Jones, Sr. F

Road to the Finals

For Olympian: Defeated (16) Mission Vista 81-35 in the first round; Defeated (8) St. Joseph Academy 76-59 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (4) Mira Mesa 60-33 in the semifinals.

For Monte Vista: Defeated (14) Granite Hills 62-43 in the first round; Defeated (6) Westview 53-41 in the quarterfinals; Defeated (15) Central 74-67 in the semifinals.

The Rundown: In order for Monte Vista to claim their second CIF championship in 3 seasons (won D4 in 2022), they're going to have to do something no D3 team has done this year: Beat the Eagles. Olympian has gone an impressive 23-0 against D3 competition or lower, including two wins against the Monarchs. Their guards are very undersized, but dynamic and gifted shot makers. Humphries emerged as an All South Bay first team talent this season, while Walker provides a steady hand at the point guard position. The emergence of Anderson, a freshman, as the team's leading scorer, has been huge to complete the trio. Aquino and Cacao, both seniors, provide shooting and in Cacao the team's lone starter above 6-1 (at 6-4). The Eagles get it done with a swarming defense that has become Marty Ellis' trademark over the years.

Monte Vista can claim the closest game against Olympian in the D3 field, a 1-point loss to the Eagles in the D3 Thanksgiving Showcase. The Monarchs are senior heavy and give teams issues with underrated guard play (Sykes is a brash, feisty point guard and Al-Asady is a big time jump shooter) and a formidable front-court trio of Fillmore, Brown and Jones who are all between 6-4 and 6-5 and have huge wingspans. Head Coach Mike Tully deploys this length in the team's 1-3-1 and 1-2-2 full-court trap defenses that have caused opponents headaches all season. When the Monarchs are at their best, they are converting baskets off of that pressure and taking good shots in the half court. When they've struggled, they've let their emotions get the best of them. The maturation of the team during the playoff run has allowed them to withstand some runs that they might not have overcome in earlier games.


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