A preview to this year's California Interscholastic Federation Open Division boys basketball state championship game occurred months ago in another state.
On Dec. 21, Mater Dei-Santa Ana was pushed to overtime by Bishop O'Dowd High before the Monarchs prevailed 63-59 in the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas.
The two squads will meet again Saturday at 8 p.m. at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento in what could be a classic matchup.
You want winning programs? Mater Dei is 34-0 this season and has won three straight CIF state titles and 10 overall. Bishop O'Dowd (28-4) has a 23-game winning streak and has not lost in 2014.
You want nationally ranked teams? Mater Dei is No. 1 in the nation, according to MaxPreps.com's Xcellent 25 rankings; Bishop O'Dowd is 23rd in the same rankings.
You want stars? Mater Dei has Arizona-bound Stanley Johnson, a 6-foot-7 wing who is the top-ranked senior player in the state and the top senior small forward in the nation according to espn.com. Bishop O'Dowd has the 6-10 Ivan Rabb, who is the top-ranked junior in the nation regardless of position according to espn.com. He scored 24 points and grabbed 21 rebounds against Mater Dei on Dec. 21.
But the two programs' recent histories are different. Mater Dei's combined record since the 2009-2010 season is 134-7, with Johnson being a part of the Monarchs' past three state titles. Bishop O'Dowd is 106-21 during that span and its last state championship victory was in 1981, although the Dragons have reached a state title game as recently as 2011.
"We have no business being on the court with them," Bishop O'Dowd coach Lou Richie said. "We are huge underdogs. Nobody expects us to play with Mater Dei."
Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight doesn't discount the Dragons, however.
"They are a very, very good basketball team. They complement each other, they play hard," said McKnight, in his 32nd year at Mater Dei. "They have four very good guards. Rabb is one of the premier players in the country. (Shane Farley) is really a guy that gets things done."
This postseason, Rabb is averaging 24.5 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocks. Teammate Juwan Anderson is averaging nine assists and three steals a game.
Johnson, who scored 25 points against Bishop O'Dowd on Dec. 21 despite being in foul trouble, is averaging 25.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 steals this season. He is one of four Monarchs averaging double-figure scoring this season, joining M.J. Cage (14.9 points per game), Rex Pflueger (12.2 ppg) and La'vette Parker (10.1 ppg).
Bishop O'Dowd gained a lot from the December game against Mater Dei.
"We learned they are a great team and we had a chance to win the game. It came down to one possession, and we didn't execute well at the end of the game or overtime," Richie said.
"Even though we lost the game, we felt we had gotten better and we would get better throughout the year."