Chicago, IL -- With more made-for-television games and national showcases every year, it's not really a surprise when the nation's best teams lose. If is quite a stunner, however, to see the nation's top two teams fall on back-to-back nights, one during the first-ever regular season game televised on ESPN's flagship channel and the other a league setback to an unranked foe.
"Extremely," Artesia (Lakewood, CA) head coach Loren Grover told the L.A. Times when asked if he was surprised when his No. 2 ranked Pioneers lost to La Mirada (13-5), a team that was nowhere near even the top 20 in CalHiSports.com's state rankings. "We controlled the entire game. Normally we handle these situations but we made mistakes and they were good at capitalizing on our mistakes."
In the final seconds of the game on Wednesday night, Artesia (15-1) had a chance to tie the game when EA SPORTS All-American candidate James Harden launched a three-pointer. He missed the shot, but was fouled in the act. Harden could have tied the game with three made free throws. He made the first foul shot, but missed the second and then missed the third on purpose for a possible offensive rebound attempt that was unsuccessful.
Top-ranked Oak Hill Academy was also unsuccessful against No. 20 Simeon (Chicago, IL) in the first-ever regular season game televised live on ESPN's main channel Thursday night. Not even when LeBron James led St. Vincent-St. Mary of Akron, Ohio to the 2003 FAB 50 national title or when Greg Oden led his Lawrence North (Indianapolis, IN) Wildcats to similar acclaim last season did those teams play on ESPN.
The 3,070 fans at UIC Pavilion in West Chicago and the national television audience were not treated to an Oak Hill coronation, but rather a virtuoso performance by Simeon senior guard Derrick Rose. The surefire EA SPORTS All-American and Memphis recruit scored 28 points on nine of 18 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and dished off nine timely assists against the Warriors.
"I'm happy our team played different than the Rice game," Rose remarked in reference to Sunday's 53-51 loss to FAB 50-ranked Rice (New York, NY) during the NIKE Super Six Invitational at Madison Square Garden. "I made my impact early in the game and it helped our team."
Oak Hill (22-1) took an early 15-8 lead, but the Wolverines stormed right back as Rose tied the game at 15 with two made free throws. Simeon held a 18-17 lead after one period of play, but the cagers from Chicago asserted themselves in the second period, consistently beating Oak Hill's defensive rotation down the floor and winning the battle of the boards.
A put back by Kevin Johnson (18 points, 10 rebounds) gave Simeon (13-2) a 36-30 lead and he followed that up by finishing a dunk on the fast break. After Rose converted a left-handed, coast-to-coast lay-up, the Wolverines led 40-30 at halftime. The 6-foot-3 point guard (who wears No. 25 like the late Ben Wilson did at Simeon) was consistently blowing by his man and also did a good job of getting his teammates involved.
Despite being thoroughly outplayed most of the night, Oak Hill kept the score close for a majority of the second half. A dunk by Duke-bound Nolan Smith followed by a steal in the backcourt that led to the 19th and 20th point of the game for Michigan-bound Alex Legion and all of a sudden Oak Hill trailed by only seven points, 50-43. Rose, however, killed the Warriors' momentum when he made a fall-away, 13-footer at the end of the third quarter to make it a nine-point game.
Simeon went up by as much as 14 points (68-54) in the final period, but Oak Hill junior point guard Brandon Jennings helped to keep the score respectable. After going scoreless for three quarters, Jennings scored 19 points in the final period, including 16 in a stretch of two minutes, 20 seconds. Still, his late efforts and Legion's 23 points were not enough as Oak Hill lost its first game of the season after 22 wins against strong competition.
Both upsets have major ramifications down the line since both Artesia and No. 4 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA) are heading out to Duke University later this month to face Oak Hill and Huntington of West Virginia. If none of those four teams had lost from the time this week's FAB 50 was released until they hit the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it would have been No. 1 Oak Hill vs. No. 4 Mater Dei and No. 2 Artesia vs. No. 3 Huntington.
Now, because of Artesia's loss and Mater Dei's earlier loss to Artesia at the Orange Tournament in Southern California, next week will likely see the FAB 50 with Huntington or Benedict's of Newark, New Jersey, moving up to No. 1 after Oak Hill's loss on Thursday night. Simeon is a good team no doubt, but the outcome of the game in the Windy City was a slight upset, but nothing like Artesia's loss to a La Mirada team that earlier suffered a 42-point loss to a 11-7 team.
St. Benedict's, a program that now has a prep team and a regular high school team led by former Seton Hall standout Danny Hurley, is currently undefeated but has only one game left against an opponent currently ranked. That game will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey on February 2 against Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Huntington, led by all-americans O.J. Mayo and Patrick Patterson, have only one win by less than 19 points and that was a 12-point win over current No. 23 DeMatha (Hyattsville, MD). In addition to their game with Artesia, the Highlanders also still must face Kentucky's top-rated team twice plus No. 7 St. Patrick (Elizabeth, NJ) in a game televised by ESPN2 on February 22.
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