"I knew they were a good team. I'm not surprised their only loss was to us,'' M-A coach Mike Molieri said. "They have guys who can shoot the ball and a lot of bigs. They're by far the best team I've seen.''
Carlmont, which is coming off an 11-15 season, would have a chance, with a win over M-A, to earn a share of a PAL title for the first time since the 2010 team tied with Mills for the PAL Bay championship. Carlmont's three losses this season were to a 20-4 Stuart Hall team, 19-1 Churchill County of Nevada and to M-A, which has won 14 straight.
The Bears have gone 127-63 in Molieri's seven years as head coach. The current team resembles the 2016 team that went 29-5 overall, 12-0 in league and advanced to the NorCal Division I championship game. Neither team were overly impressive in terms of individual talent or size but played in a manner greater than the sum of their parts.
"We're not intimidating,'' Molieri said. "People look at us when we come out on the court and think we're the JV team.''
M-A's three losses were all to very good teams: James Logan (by 6), Bellarmine (by 10) and Mitty (by 1). And as Molieri was quick to point out, all three of those losses occurred before Justin Anderson and Skyler Thomas joined the team once the school's state championship football team's season concluded.
"They've been huge,'' Molieri said. "They've solidified our defense. Winning a football championship with coach Adhir, they've brought a lot of confidence and what it takes to be a champion.''
Anderson has moved into the starting lineup at guard while Thomas comes off the bench at forward. Anderson, a Division I recruit as a cornerback in football, is also a defensive standout in hoops.
"People want to pass the ball away when Justin is on them,'' Molieri said. "Our defense has become very intense once we added Justin and Skyler. We can extend our pressure when both are in the game. They cover so much ground, which makes it easier for everyone else, including the coach.''
Offensively the Bears feature balanced scoring. Nick Tripaldi leads the team at 12 points per game, followed by James Beckwith (11 ppg) and Will Beasley. Heath Hooper has been solid in the post despite standing only 6-2. Thomas, Spencer Lin and Trevor Wargo have contributed off the bench.
"This team shoots the ball well and has shown the ability to come back in close games,'' Molieri said. "Sometimes it takes a while to get going. I've had to use some halftime call-outs to play. But this team has a little swagger.''
Other than the first Carlmont game, the Bears have won their other eight PAL South games by an average margin of 25 points per game. It won't be that easy Friday night in Belmont.
"We'll be going into a hostile environment and the place should be rocking,'' Molieri said. "It will be great for the kids. It's a possible ticket to the (CCS) Open if we win.''
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