As the Bee's No. 1 team, Capital Christian expects to be challenged every time it takes the court.
Tonight it was No. 15 Kennedy in the opening game of the 12-team, five-day St. Hope Elite Classic at Sacramento High School.
Kennedy made Capital Christian sweat a lot before the Rosemont private school finished the final 2 minutes, 40 seconds with a flourish.
"We're at the point right now where we are worried about everybody," says Capital Christian coach Devon Jones. "It's high school basketball. Just because you may have a lot of talent, you still have to get up for the games.
"Most teams, if they can beat us, it's going to be their signature win of the season."
Several times, Capital Christian (8-0) appeared as if it was about to break open the game against a youthful Kennedy team with only three seniors.
Capital Christian led 29-19 at the half but saw Kennedy rally to take a one-point lead, 34-33, on sophomore Isaiah Bates' basket with 3:30 to play in the third quarter.
Capital Christian then outscored Kennedy 22-6 to go up 17 points, 56-39, with 5:45 to play.
Coach Robert Fong's Kennedy bunch wasn't done, however.
Sophomore sharpshooter Cole Taira landed three consecutive 3-point beauties en route to Kennedy outscoring Capital 13-2. Senior Matt Nakatomi's 10-foot sling-shot, squeezed off between a couple of Capital Christian defenders, cut Capital's lead to 58-52 with 2:42 to play.
After a timeout, senior-dominated Capital Christian finished with a 6-0 run.
Senior post Nifae Lealao made two free throws, senior point guard Tyler Jennings hit a jumper just inside the key and senior shooting guard UC Iroegbu added two more free throws. In the same span, Kennedy made three consecutive turnovers and missed its last two shots.
Michigan-bound senior forward D.J. Wilson led Capital Christian with 13 points, Iroegbu added 12, Lealao 10 and Jennings, fresh off his MVP performance in the Gridley Invitational, had nine while providing steady and heady leadership.
Taira had 14 points and Nakatomi 10 for Kennedy (5-3).
Since winning three games in Chicago in late November and beating Modesto Christian by 10 in Modesto Dec. 7, the Cougars have been challenged the last four games, especially in the Gridley tournament last weekend.
Capital Christian beat Salesian of Richmond 66-60, then topped Campolindo of Moraga, 80-71 in overtime, but only after Jennings' heroics late in regulation after Capital Christian had squandered a large lead.
Jennings made three free throws with eight seconds to tie the game and send it into overtime, then had four more points in the extra period to finish with a game-high 29.
"We scored only four points in the third quarter and they were up five with three minutes to go but we battled back," Jones said. "Tyler had an incredible game. He's a stud. I've said he's the best point guard in Northern California, and I stand behind that."
The two-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division V champions then beat sophomore-dominated Sacramento 78-75 Saturday night for the championship.
That win not only solidified its top ranking by The Bee but moved the Cougars into the Cal-Hi State Top 25 this week at No. 13.
"Those Sac High kids are already very good," Jones said. "But having five senior starters makes it a different ballgame for us. I think experience is going to take us far. They don't want to lose."