Chatsworth boys basketball earns trip to CIF state finals by knocking off Cleveland

Chatsworth team poses with CIF plaque during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

CHATSWORTH — The top-seeded Chatsworth boys basketball team punched its ticket to the CIF State championships Tuesday by defeating No. 2 seed Cleveland 62-47 in the CIF Southern California Regional Division IV final at Chatsworth High.

The Chancellors (20-14) advance to the state championships at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. They will face Northern California Regional champion Monterey on Saturday at noon.

After dropping a pair of regular-season games to Cleveland, the Chancellors (20-19) rode a pair of hard-earned double-doubles and some impressive defense to the regional title.

Sophomore Alijah Arenas, who scored 55 points in the regional semifinals, had a game-high 21 points to go with 16 rebounds, while junior Taj Unuakhalu had 17 points and 17 rebounds.

(R) Chatsworths #21 TaJ Unuakhalu blocks a shot over Cleveland #22 Roman Finney during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

(L) Chatsworths #0 Alijah Arena collides with Cleveland’s #22 Roman Finney during the CIF Southern California Regional Division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

Chatsworth’s #21 TaJ Unuakhalu, right, blocks the ball from Cleveland #11 Kamari King during Southern California Division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the game 62-47. (Photo by Gene Blevins, Contributing Photographer)

(C) Chatsworths #21 Taj Unuakhalu fights for the ball on a rebound Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

Chatsworth head coach Sam Harris holds the CIF plaque during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

Cleveland team try to deal with lost during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

(L) Chatsworths #21 TaJ Unuakhalu recovers the ball during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

(C) Chatsworths #23 Salomon Torres makes a pass during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

LAPD had to keep 75-100 people out our to no seats during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

(C) Chatsworths #21 TaJ Unuakhalu recovers a rebound during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

Cleveland team huddle togethe with lost during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

Chatsworth team poses with CIF plaque during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

(R) Chatsworths #21 TaJ Unuakhalu blocks the bal from Cleveland #12 Cayden Kelly during Southern California division IV championship game Tuesday, Chatsworth CA, March 5, 2024. Chatsworths won the CIF game over Cleveland 62-47.
(Photo by Gene Blevins/Contributing Photographer

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The duo scored the first 24 points of the game for Chatsworth and had 27 of their 31 first-half points.

“We did try to make the defense pick and choose if they’re gonna guard one or the other,” said Chatsworth coach Sam Harris. “Then our other guys can step up and knock down shots. But the game plan coming in was to punish them inside and make sure that we controlled the boards.”

Cleveland jumped out to an early lead, capitalizing on a slow Chatsworth start and the hot hand of Kamari King. He knocked down four first-quarter 3-pointers as part of a 16-point outing as the Cavaliers took a 20-10 lead after the opening quarter.

CJ Gore came off the bench to guard King and held him scoreless in the second period, sparking Chatsworth to a 31-30 halftime lead.

“He’s been up and down a little bit all year, but he stayed with it, stayed disciplined,” Harris said of Gore. “He listened to what we asked him. Any assignment we give him, he’s up for the challenge. I told him right before the game that it’s gonna be one of those nights where we’re gonna need him to play a lot of minutes and a lot of defense and he just stepped up to the challenge.”

Added Arenas: “We had to put one of our best defenders on him and we all trusted in CJ. CJ is one of our top guys and he’s a dog, so he knows how to just take control and just play hard to the best of his ability.”

With King slowed, the Chancellors defense stymied the Cavaliers (20-11). They allowed just eight field goals after the first quarter, including just one in the fourth quarter.

“We just tried to take Kamari out of the game – make everything hard for him, make sure it’s difficult, and make sure his teammates weren’t really involved,” said Harris. “We wanted to make everybody else ball handlers and we executed the game plan perfectly.”

On the offensive end, Unuakhalu was one of the biggest reasons the Chancellors overcame their early offensive struggles. He had 12 points and 12 rebounds at the break.

Gore (seven points) and freshman Tekeio Phillips both drilled 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, kicking off a 14-0 run that broke the game open.

Phillips scored eight of his 10 points during that stretch to finish off the Cavaliers.

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