Using relentless defense and a second-half offensive surge, the Monroe Catholic boys claimed their first Class 3A state basketball title at the Sullivan Arena on Saturday.
"I just feel amazing and on top of the world," Monroe's player of the game LaDarius Milton said.
The 47-33 win over Anchorage Christian got off to a slow start, but an 18-7 run in the third quarter just about sealed the win.
"That third quarter, they came out stronger, more confident," ACS sophomore Calvin Hoffman said. "That really killed us."
Monroe (24-1) and ACS (20-6) are familiar foes, having met in last season's state title game, won by ACS. The teams met one previous time this season, with Monroe coming out on top.
Saturday's championship capped an impressive season for the Rams, whose only loss came to Class 4A Dimond. The Rams managed to hand Dimond its only regular-season loss later in the season.
Once a basketball powerhouse in the 1970s, Monroe hadn't won a state title of any kind in some time.
"It means a lot to bring one home after 32 years," said Monroe coach Frank Ostanik.
Monroe's John Michaels led all scorers with 15 points, Milton hit for 11 and Tyler Wells scored 10.
Monroe's suffocating half-court trap kept a potent ACS offense under wraps throughout the game. "We came in with a plan," Ostanik said. "Our kids did a great job. I Love my kids."
Monroe came up with 12 steals, led by five from Wells and three from Milton. When they weren't stealing the ball, they were disrupting the ACS ballhandlers.
"We had some critical turnovers and they had way too many fast-break layups," Hoffman said.
The fast breaks didn't lead to many points until the second half. The score was tied 13-13 at the half, after both teams seemed tentative with many of their shots.
"It was weird," Milton said. "Coach let us know at halftime. He told us we were a good team and to go out and start playing like it."
The Rams took their first lead at 16-15 early in the third quarter, and when Michaels drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Rams a 23-20 lead with 3:29 remaining in the period, the whole team seemed to get in a rhythm. Players started attacking the rim with acrobatic layups that found the bottom of the net, and the defense seemed to ramp up the intensity.
"When Tyler can steal the ball and Scooter (Bynum) starts doing his thing, our whole team comes together," Milton said.
The only ACS players to reach double-digit point totals were Hoffman and Gus Simmers, who each scored 13. Simmers added 13 rebounds to complete a double-double, but wasn't entirely satisfied with his performance.
"If you don't finish your shots, you're not going to win," the junior said. "I'll be in the gym come Monday, working on my game."
Simmers said the Monroe defense really got to him, and called the Rams a great team that he was happy for.
Many of the Monroe players received a big hug from Ostanik when they left the court. Milton, a senior, said it's hard to express what a good time he had playing for Ostanik.
"I can't thank him enough," he said.
ACS (33) -- Hoffman 13; Wilson 4; N. Simmers 3; A. Simmers 13.
Monroe Catholic (47) -- Bynum 8; Hajdukovich 3; Wells 10; Michaels 15; Milton 11.
ACS 7 6 7 13 -- 33
Monroe 5 8 18 16 -- 47
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News