They marched into Fresno from Cerritos unbeaten but light afoot because all that's left at this point is a bunch of little guys.
That didn't matter for Gahr High, which raced to a 107-76 victory over Bullard on Tuesday night for the Holiday Invitational Tournament title at Hoover.
Behind 31 points from tournament Most Valuable Player Davon Potts, the Gladiators staged the final in a four-game series of pass-and-shoot clinics with a five-guard offense that's averaging 91 points in a 9-0 season.
"They're really smart players and great passers," said coach Tony Amundsen of Bullard (4-4), which also lost 84-78 to Gahr in a tournament first-rounder Friday. "And they shot a ton better tonight than the first time we played them."
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This was the Gladiators' first appearance in the HIT, but they'll return Saturday for the four-day Clovis Elks Classic, which has developed into the Central Section's annual best showcase of high school basketball.
In addition to up-and-coming Bullard, it will match section powers such as Buchanan, Edison, Bakersfield and Central Valley Christian against state invaders Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks, Royal-Simi Valley and Palm Springs.
Then there's Gahr and the what-if factor.
What if the Gladiators had 6-foot-8 junior Jarion Henry, a major-college prospect, who left unexpectedly at the beginning of the school year to live with his father in Texas? And what if they had 6-3 senior forward Cameron Bell (ACL) and 6-6 freshman Darien Williams (family commitment)?
Williams, who remained in Southern California this week to attend the wedding of his mother, will play in the Clovis tournament.
"We're going to need him and develop him because our [Southern Section] is very tough," said coach Bob Becker of Gahr, which beat Hanford West in last season's Division III Southern Regionals before losing in the semifinals.
Bullard, meanwhile, is showing promise of joining the section's elite in basketball two weeks after its football team won the first section title in the school's 54-year history.
And it begins with a familiar name and extraordinary athlete -- Jajuan Hammond, a junior who scored 20 points against Gahr while earning all-tournament honors.
"We definitely have the pieces to make a lot of noise this year," Amundsen said. "It's just a matter of putting it all together and buying into what we want to do."
Competition weakens HIT
The HIT, once the section's premier Christmas break tournament, drew only 14 teams -- as opposed to a traditional 16-team field -- for the second year in a row.
"We tried, but we couldn't get the 16," Hoover athletic director Tim Carey said. "There are so many tournaments now, we couldn't get anyone else in. And a lot of area schools like to travel rather than to stay home, so that doesn't help."
Edison, Clovis West, Clovis East and Buchanan didn't participate.
Central 50, Clovis 49: The Grizzlies, playing without top players Rakim Brown and Anthony Trammell indefinitely because of discipline issues, had junior Devin Duke make a go-ahead layup with a minute remaining and force a turnover with 2 seconds to go in the third-place game matching Tri-River Athletic Conference teams.
"Gotta clean it up now," Central coach Loren LeBeau said regarding the benching of Bee All-Star Brown and Trammell.
Clovis (5-3) took a 47-46 lead on Beau Hine's 3-pointer with 2:22 remaining, and then had possession before Grizzlies sophomore Justin Lea stole the ball with 1:20 showing. Tejeshwar Ghuman followed Duke's layup with a short jumper for a 50-47 Central lead with 16.8 seconds to go.
But the Cougars cut it to 50-49 on Drew Dockweiler's layup at 8.3 seconds, and then pressed the Grizzlies into a turnover a second later. Clovis, however, was denied a chance for a game-winning shot when the 6-2 Duke positioned himself well while defending the 6-6 Dockweiler and slapped an entry pass away.
Hanford West 79, Hoover 78: Rodney Webster, a returning Bee All-Star guard from a Central Section Division III championship team, make key 3-pointers toward the end of regulation and in overtime to lead the Huskies past the host Patriots for fifth place. Webster was named all-tournament.
Cody Brice scored 26 points and Webster added 18 for Hanford West. Dupree Hull and Ben Ross scored 26 and 19 for Hoover.
Lemoore 61, Madera 52: The Tigers mounted a 49-33 lead after three quarters and coasted behind Jaelin Avery's 17 points. Hector Casillas countered with 16 for the Coyotes.
Redwood 56, Patterson 53: Senior guard Donald Lee scored 18 of his 30 points in the second half as the Rangers rallied by outscoring the Tigers of the Sac-Joaquin Section 30-21.