The Rolling Hills Prep boys basketball team will be in a familiar setting Saturday.
For third consecutive year the Huskies will play in a CIF Southern Section championship game at Godinez High in Santa Ana.
The Huskies won the Division 5AA championship in 2017, the 4A title last season and will attempt to win their third consecutive title when they face Santa Clarita Christian in the 3AA final at 4 p.m.
“We’re happy and pleased with the kids because we demand a lot,” RHP coach Harvey Kitani said. “They work hard and they understand the kind of work and effort it takes to compete.
“We played a tough summer and preseason schedule to prepare us for our division.”
The Huskies played in the Ryse Williams Pac Shores Tournament to open the season and followed that with the Mira Costa Tournament, Hoop Hall West Showcase, Damien Classic, Fairfax Classic, Orange Lutheran MLK Hoopfest, Mater Dei’s Nike Extravaganza and their own State Preview event.
Their last two losses – to El Camino Real and Mater Dei – have helped get the Huskies to this moment.
The Huskies suffered a 65-50 loss to El Camino Real and a 57-51 loss to Mater Dei.
“We were not clicking (against El Camino Real),” Kitani said. “That’s what happens when you play on a Saturday morning, but we looked it as a learning situation and that we had to work together and fight and grind through it.”
The test against Mater Dei was nearly a victory. The Huskies trailed 42-38 heading into the fourth and eventually lost 57-51.
“We were there,” Kitani said. “I thought the preparation for that game was similar to how the playoffs were going to be. It was a great experience for us.”
The Huskies began the playoffs with a 75-48 win over Price and have defeated Ocean View 82-41, Schurr 74-44 and Oxnard 64-46 to advance to the championship game.
“I like to think and hope we’ve improved and I think we have,” Kitani said. “The kids are understanding how to play a better brand of ball and utilizing what they have to improve, and I think we’ve become better defenders.”
Freshman guard Benny Gealer has opened a lot of eyes this season. He’s averaging 19.2 points during the playoffs.
“He’s doing more things for us,” Kitani said. “He has a year under his belt and he’s becoming more comfortable and understanding what we want to do and his defense is improving.”
Junior guards Vaughn Flowers and Troy Murphy Jr. have continued to improve and Brendon Green and Chris Koon have provided senior leadership throughout the season.
Junior center J.T. Tan has also helped keep the Huskies on the path toward the championship.
“He’s constantly improving,” Kitani said of Tan. “We take it granted all the things that he does. He had 20 (points) and 14 (rebounds) last game … All he does is bring his hard hat every night.
“Teams do different things to try and stop him, but he’s expanded his game and his body is evolving in the right way.”