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UP FOR GRABS: Narbonne and Carson meet for the third time this season in the City Section championship Saturday after splitting both previous meetings. Junior guard Atoe Jackson (above) has been a key player for the Lady Gauchos while Carson has received solid contribution fromÂ sophomore Taylor McCoy (left). (Nick Koza for Sentinel)
Clash Of The Titans
Westchester-Taft, Narbonne-Carson meet in rematches for City crowns
Call the City Section Division I championships Round 3. These teams know each other well enough to cut straight to the chase.
In the boys' game, Westchester and Taft meet in their third City final since 2006. On the girls' side, Narbonne and Carson face off for the third time this season.
Westchester is looking to continue their run last decade into the next with an 11th City title and a homegrown roster of experienced seniors. Taft is trying to add to their City titles in 2004 and 2007 with a mix of homegrown talent and transfers.
They represent two different ways of developing great teams in high school today. But what they share in common is great coaching from two of California's best.
Ed Azzam and Derrick Taylor not only respect each other, they bring out the best of their players year in and year out because their systems work.
The teams met back in December at Westchester's annual tournament and the Comets won 71-62 due to their experience and cohesion. This time around, they'll face a squad that is playing more unified with just as much balance.
"We're much better this time," Taylor said.
A big reason is the improved play of senior Bryce Jones. Two years ago, he led View Park Prep to a City Small Schools title and as the season has progressed, he's grown into a more confident scorer/leader.
The USC-bound Jones put on a show in the semifinals at his future home, scoring 27 points and nine rebounds against Crenshaw the Galen Center.
"It's what I've been waiting for," Jones said of the finals. "We're all coming together as a team."
It's a matchup of great guard play - Jones and sophomore Landon Drew against Westchester's Jordin Mayes, Kareem Jamar and Denzel Douglas - and a battle in the middle between Taft junior DeAndre Daniels and Westchester's Dwayne Polee and Reggie Murphy.
History favors Westchester. They're 2-0 against the Toreadors in City finals after winning last year and in 2006. Just don't tell the Comets they're the favorite.
"It's never easy," Mayes said. "We just have to match their intensity and do what we're capable of doing.
Everyone has waited for this game since the season started and it's time to see another rumble between the two giants of the City.
Narbonne and Carson took the upset route to get here - and it was an upset in name only as both punched their City ticket on the road against beatable top seeds.
It's a battle of rediscovering tradition versus creating their own. Carson played the role of little sister to Narbonne while the Gauchos racked up City and Marine League titles in the late 1990's up to their last title in 2008 and set players to various Division I schools.
Now it's the Colts who are in the first City final since 1982.
"We've been dreaming of this day for a long time," Carson coach Marcel Sanders said.
Juniors Janitah Iamaleava and Chante Miles, who scored 24 of the team's 44 in the semifinal win over Washington, are a solid outside-inside combo.
The Gauchos, on the other hand, are back for the first time since 2008. No longer the City's dominant program, it's a new crop of players learning to understand the legacy left in their hands.
Led by juniors Atoe Jackson and Tailer Butler - along with guards Kim Pickett and Jamesha Chapman who battled injuries this year - it's a group small in size but big on intensity.
Narbonne coach Victoria Sanders feels her squad is more battle-tested, having beaten all of City's elite teams - including Small Schools No. 1 seed View Park Prep. Despite beating Carson a month ago, she knows it will be a challenge for her defense.
"They have a lot of weapons," Sanders said, "But the girls are ready for them."
Both teams have shown why the Marine League was the toughest in the City - three teams reached the semifinals. One way or another, the City title will be coming back to the South Bay.
Tonight, View Park Prep is going for their fourth consecutive double sweep in the Small Schools Division. Both schools will face LACES.