For three straight years, the CIF-SS Division 4AA quarterfinals had spelled doom for the 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 the playoffs.
Thanks to Mission Prep’s Quinton Adlesh ’15, the infamous streak lives on for the Wolverines.
In a quarterfinal matchup on Feb. 24, the Columbia-committed point guard won the battle of Division 4AA’s top two scorers with 44 points, including a staggering nine three-pointers, to carry his second-seeded Royals to a 91-82 win over sixth-seeded Harvard-Westlake. The victory eliminated the Wolverines in the third round for the fourth consecutive season, and finished Head Coach Greg Hillard’s illustrious career in the process.
“[Coach Hilliard] just told us he’s proud of us,” Alex Copeland ’15 told the Los Angeles Daily News’ Evan Barnes after the game. “Obviously it’s a disappointing loss, but he wanted to express to us how happy he was to have a team like us.”
Copeland extended his career high with a dominant 42-point scoring effort in the team’s final regular season game, helping the Wolverines take an 18-point first quarter lead against chief rival Loyola. However, despite the star guard’s efforts, the squad took a 79-71 loss in the epic rivalry matchup due to Loyola’s size advantage, which forced the squad to slide behind Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in the Division 4AA playoff seedings.
“Loyola executed their game plan really well, they took advantage of their size,” said Copeland, who became the first Wolverine to average at least 25 points per game in a season since Bryce Taylor ‘04. “Although we did a good job limiting Henry’s [Welsh] and Stone’s [Gettings] looks early on, their size wore down on us.”
Relegated to the sixth seed in the playoff bracket, the team began its postseason with a vengeance. A 31-6 advantage in first quarter — the highest point differential for a Harvard-Westlake team in one quarter since December 2010 — helped the team take a 79-31 first round victory over Fillmore on Feb. 17. Copeland set the school’s all-time single game steals record by securing 11 on the night.
The squad had an intriguing second round home matchup with Rancho Mirage High School, which was only founded in 2013 and features no seniors on campus. The team trailed by as many as eight in the first quarter, but dominance from Copeland (30 points) and center Noah Gains ‘15 (21 rebounds, the most for any Wolverine since Damiene Cain ‘11 in November 2010) carried the squad to a comfortable 75-58 victory.
“We have to come out with the same intensity in every game, as if we’re not going to play tomorrow,” said Gains, who became the first Wolverine to average double-digit rebounds per game in a season since Zena Edosomwan ‘12. “In the first quarter they outhustled us and outrebounded us, and I took that to heart, so that was motivation for the rest of the game.”
Coming off of these two playoff victories, the Wolverines had momentum entering its home quarterfinal matchup, and seemed ready for an upset early on. Even though the student fans were initially scarce — most were still watching the varsity girls’ soccer team in their eventual loss to Santa Ana Mater Dei — the squad jumped out to a strong start, taking a 23-12 lead behind the jump shooting of Ali Iken ’17, who scored 16 points on the night and averaged 13.5 per game on the season.
However, Adlesh’s historical effort from downtown doomed the Wolverines, as his Royals slowly began to chip at the Harvard-Westlake lead. Behind Copeland’s scoring, the Wolverines were still on top 48-40 going into the halftime break, but the team simply couldn’t hold off the Royals, whose barrage of three-point shots eliminated Harvard-Westlake from playoff contention.
“[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.
Harvard-Westlake finished 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. Consequently, Hilliard’s career as the Wolverines’ head coach is over, concluding his Harvard-Westlake career with a 617-244 overall record, 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 didn’t have as much talent as Hilliard’s teams have had in the past few years, but we played harder than anybody, we battled night in and night out. We played with passion and a lot of heart, we played for each other and we loved our guys on and off the court.”