For three straight years, the CIF-SS Division 4AA quarterfinals had spelled doom for the Harvard-Westlake varsity boys’ basketball team; Gardena Serra in 2012, Bishop Montgomery in 2013, and Buckley in 2014 had all eliminated the squad in the third round of their year’s respective playoffs.
Thanks to Mission Prep’s Quinton Adlesh, the infamous streak lives on for the Wolverines.
The Columbia-committed point guard won the battle of Division 4AA’s top two scorers with 44 points, including a staggering 11 three-pointers, to carry his second-seeded Royals (23-5 overall, 13-1 in Pac 8 League) to a 91-82 quarterfinal win over sixth-seeded Harvard-Westlake on Tuesday night, finishing Head Coach Greg Hillard’s illustrious career in the process.
“[Coach Hilliard] just told us he’s proud of us, obviously it’s a disappointing loss but he wanted to express to us how happy he was to have a team like us,” Alex Copeland told the Los Angeles Daily News’ Evan Barnes after the game.
Early on, the student fans were scarce for the Wolverines — most were still outdoors watching the varsity girls’ soccer team in their eventual loss to Santa Ana Mater Dei — but the lack of support wasn’t displayed on the scoreboard. Strong shooting from Ali Iken, who finished with 16 points on six-for-10 shooting, combined with solid defense on Adlesh by Copeland helped Harvard-Westlake get out to a dominant start, as the squad led 23-12 after one frame.
In the second, the fans began to pour in for Harvard-Westlake, but the points from Adlesh did as well. Adlesh’s dominance from downtown led to 24 points in the first half alone, as the Royals began to chip at the lead due to the outside shooting of guards Adlesh and Brandon Jones (13 points). Fortunately for Harvard-Westlake, Copeland kept the team afloat offensively, scoring from inside and outside to finish with 15 first-half points of his own, allowing the Wolverines to remain on top, 48-40, going into the halftime break.
The story was the same in the second half; regardless of whether the Wolverines put Copeland or Carter Begel on Adlesh, the barrage from beyond the arc kept coming. Aaron Glazer stepped up for the Wolverines, scoring nine of his 14 points (on five-for-eight shooting) in the third quarter to keep the team ahead, but there was no way to hold off Mission Prep with the shooting performance of Adlesh, who also pulled 13 rebounds on the night. A last-minute layup from Copeland, who led the team with 26 points in his final high school game, tied the score at 67 apiece going into the fourth, as Harvard-Westlake was engaged in its first tight game of the postseason.
Unfortunately, the Royals began to pull away, as the outside shots for Harvard-Westlake stopped falling in crunch time. Even though Noah Gains had an impressive performance in the paint with 14 points on six for six shooting, 14 rebounds, and four blocks, the outside shooting of Adlesh, Jones, and even power forward Kyle Stewart (13 points) helped the team take the lead for good.
“[Adlesh] is a great player, and it made it tough for us,” said Copeland, who shot 11-for-27 on the night, about his future collegiate rival.
Jumpers from Copeland and Iken helped cut the score to 81-78 with under two minutes remaining, but that was as close as the Wolverines would come. A clutch three-ball on the next possession from Stewart put the team up by six before a Copeland turnover gave the ball away, as the Royals closed out by making intentional-foul free throws to take a nine-point win and advance to the semifinals against Chaminade.
Harvard-Westlake finishes the season at 14-14 overall and 4-8 in Mission League play, including a 1-9 record in games decided by a single-digit amount of points and a 2-12 record in games decided by less than 15. Consequently, Hilliard’s career as the Wolverines’ head coach is over, with four straight quarterfinal losses since winning the 2011 CIF-SS Division 3A championship. Hilliard’s all-time record as a Harvard-Westlake coach ends at 617-244, including nine CIF-SS divisional titles that all came in a dominant 17-season stretch from 1995 to 2011.
“It felt weird at the end and it felt weird in the locker room afterwards,” Hilliard said to Barnes after the game. “That’s when it hit the most that it’s over.”
“He wanted to express how proud he was of how hard we played, with how much heart we played and the type of people we were becoming,” Copeland added. “We all had to thank him because its been a true honor to play for such a legendary coach and for such a guy who’s put so much effort into teaching us the game and helping us becoming better people.”
Copeland ended the season as the Mission League’s leading scorer at 25.4 points per game, becoming the first Wolverine to lead the league in scoring since Erik Swoope ’10 in his senior season. (Because Mission Prep chooses not to publish their stats to MaxPreps, it’s unknown whether Copeland or Adlesh will finish as Division 4AA’s leading scorer.) His career will continue at Yale University, where he will annually match up with both Adlesh and Loyola’s Stone Gettings ’15 (Cornell) in a continuation of old high school rivalries.
“We didn’t have as much talent as Hilliard’s teams have had in the past few years, or as much as other teams in the league, but we played harder than anybody, we battled night in and night out,” Copeland said. “We played with passion and a lot of heart, we played for each other and we loved our guys on and off the court.”
Gains finished at 10.7 rebounds per game, becoming the first Wolverine to finish in double-digits in that statistic since Zena Edosomwan ’12 in his senior year. Spencer Perryman ’15, who was held to three points on Tuesday, still finished the season with a fine 38 percent mark from three-point range.
While these three starters will all be departing for the 2015-16 season, four of this season’s top seven rotational players were sophomores in Glazer, Iken, Carter Begel and Ray Mueller. The team will also be receiving Wolfgang Novogratz (foot) and Parsa Shoa (back) from season-ending injuries, and guards Liam Hyde and Alex Sington also could be heavy contributors after missing the entire 2014-15 season due to knee injuries. Candidates for the new head coach have not been announced, as the athletic department has simply stated that the formal interview process will now begin because of the team’s elimination.
Tuesday’s game was live-streamed by HWTV, for those unable to attend. The link to the game can be seen here: