Boys basketball: Newman’s opponent has impressive pedigree


Experienced and on a roll, Pacific Hills — much as Cardinal Newman — is back on familiar footing in a California prep basketball championship game.

Pacific Hills possesses one milestone Cardinal Newman craves — a state title.

Advancing through the ultra-tough Southern California regional, Pacific Hills has been tested in the Bruins quest for a bookend to the school’s 1998 championship.

Still, despite wins over top seed Serra and an equally talented Bishop Montgomery team, Pacific Hills recognizes Cardinal Newman poses a strong challenge in the CIF Boys Division 4 title contest.

“Winning the southern regional is such a huge deal. But Cardinal Newman is really good,” said Pacific Hills coach Ivan Barahona.

Returning four starters, as Cardinal Newman does, Pacific Hills like the Cardinals can grind out wins or push to victories.

Quick, strong on drives, and sharp with shots, both the Bruins and Cardinals have championship profiles.

“We match up pretty well,” Barahona said.

Size will not be an advantage for Cardinal Newman as it has in the run to the Northern California regional title. Pacific Hills’ top three scorers are eye to eye with their Cardinals counterparts.

What’s more, the Bruins are accustomed to playing against even bigger opponents.

To prepare for the postseason, Pacific Hills plays a rugged early season schedule.

Nor Cal hoop fans will recognize a pair of Pacific Hills’ opponents.

The Bruins beat tall and talented Deer Valley in a tournament and the next day — after a long bus trip — fell late to East Bay power Bishop O’Dowd.

“We just try to prepare for the playoffs. In the south it’s pretty tough to make it to state,” Barahona said.

One edge Pacific Hills could work to establish is speeding up Cardinal Newman. The Bruins are more comfortable scoring in transition.

Whatever the style of play, Pacific Hills has proven a difficult team to defeat, particularly in the Southern California regionals.

Against favored Serra, of Gardena, the Bruins ground out a three-point win with their duo of college-bound guards. Jahmel Taylor, committed to Washington, led the scoring, followed by Marcus Jackson, who is headed for Rice.

In the regional championship Pacific Hills out-paced Bishop Montgomery in a contest similar to Cardinal Newman’s up-and-down win over Riordan.

Pacific Hills is making the school’s fourth state championship appearance, the first under Barahona.

In his eighth year leading Pacific Hills, the 1996 graduate of the West Hollywood school has taken the Bruins to four Southern Section titles, two Southern California finals, and today’s state championship game.

“We have high standards,” Barahona said.

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