St. Anthony basketball overpowers Heritage Christian in CIF-SS 2AA semifinals

NORTH HILLS — Joseph Winker’s mid-air 3-pointer to beat the first-half buzzer was less of a prayer and more of a shot that personified the type of game Friday was for St. Anthony’s boys basketball team.

One where the rim seemed to match the size of an ocean, with driving lanes aplenty.

With five seconds remaining in the first half, Winker had lost control of the ball as he hurriedly sought space to launch.

“I knew it was going in,” he said. “We had energy off of that and came out with it in the second half.”

Winker led St. Anthony with 15 points, that 3-point make coming on one of the few contested looks. Time and again the Saints guards got a foot in the paint on their drives while Heritage Christian (22-8) did little to resist penetration and seldom sent help.

Behind that offensive outburst, St. Anthony beat Heritage Christian 75-57 to advance to the CIF Southern Section 2AA championship, its first appearance in the finals since 2000.

St. Anthony advances to face Rolling Hills Prep in the final on Feb. 23 or 24.  The date and time will be announced Monday.

Darius Williams had 14 points and Quincy Phillips added 13 points and five assists for the Saints (22-7).  Along with Winker, that trio of guards took advantage of the Warriors’ inability to move their feet when they blitzed screens, leaving room in the paint.

“Some of their weaknesses were positives for us,” Saints head coach Alan Mitchell said. “I’m surprised we didn’t see a little bit more from them defensively. But with the game Mikey had last game, and what (Winker’s) done all season, and Quincy, the floor gravitates to them.”

In the Saints’ 91-86 win over Campbell Hall in the quarterfinals Tuesday, Winker and Mikey Cortez heated up from distance to erase a nine-point halftime deficit. Their acumen as shooters certainly impacted the Warriors’ approach defensively.

“We definitely were more aware of them,” Heritage Christian head coach Paul Tait said. “We didn’t execute.”

On Friday, Cortez and Winker combined for just one 3, but their successes Tuesday worried Tait. It opened the lane for Williams, whose and-1 layup extended the Warriors’ lead to double-digits early in the second quarter.

Rather than helping off shooters, the Warriors briefly switched to a 2-3 zone, which the Saints handled, as well. On subsequent possessions, Jared Lloyd Jr. found Aman Haynes for high percentage looks on the right side.

To combat the Warriors’ advantage in length and height, the Saints employed complementing full-court pressures — picking up man-to-man for the most part, sprinkling in a 2-2-1 press. An already rattled Heritage Christian, struggled with both looks, instead reverting to contested mid-range pull ups.

“We had guys that were definitely trying to force the issue,” Tait said. “It was St. Anthony’s night.”

The shots the Warriors conceded certainly didn’t help, but that much was clear after Winker’s heave found nylon. After that moment, the Saints returned to earth and closed out the game with composure.

Dillon Shaw led the Warriors with 17 points.

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