Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 | 11:45 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss their way through the Sunrise and Sunset playoff brackets. They disagree on the early rounds, but come to a consensus on who will advance to the state championship.
It took Sierra Vista 10 years to capture the first playoff victory in school history. Now, the Mountain Lions have won two in three days.
Sierra Vista, which finished second in the Southwest Division, knocked off Northwest Division champions Centennial 56-44 Thursday in the Sunset Region semifinals.
“It’s just a big step for us and the school,” said senior guard Maiscei Grier. “Everybody has a dream of going to state and that’s our main goal.”
It’s no coincidence that the school’s best basketball season came in the first year Grier was on the squad. Grier, who transferred from Arbor View before the season, led the Mountain Lions in scoring for the third straight game.
He recorded 18 points and hit two 3-pointers during a 10-0 run that Sierra Vista used to pull away in the third quarter.
“Usually the third quarter, in previous games, we’ve been slipping up,” said senior guard Viko Noma’aea. “We had a long meeting the other day about the third quarter being our most important quarter. So that’s when we came out and brought defensive pressure.”
The Mountain Lions forced four turnovers in the opening minutes of the third quarter and used their speed to convert on fast break opportunities.
It was something they failed to do in the first 16 minutes of the game. Centennial effectively slowed the game down and built an 18-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs also took a 25-24 advantage into halftime.
“We didn’t feel like we did a good job in the first half in transition,” said Sierra Vista coach Kent Johnson. “It was something we had highlighted that we thought we could take advantage of and we didn’t do a good job.”
They also had trouble containing Aaseem Dixon, one of the city’s top players. Dixon scored nine points in the first quarter but was hobbled with a deep thigh bruise before halftime and held scoreless the rest of the way.
Sierra Vista’s stars, meanwhile, were inexorable. Noma’aea, who finished with 13 points and four assists, stuffed a one-handed dunk down and Grier hit another 3-point shot in the final minute of the third quarter.
“After that dunk from Viko, that was a game changer,” Grier said. “We had all the momentum from there.”
Sierra Vista can secure its spot in the state tournament with a victory over Bishop Gorman on Friday night at Desert Oasis. The Mountain Lions have played the defending state champions relatively close in two meetings, losing 90-80 and 85-71.
Johnson said getting over the playoff win hump takes all the pressure off Sierra Vista against Gorman.
“This is big for us already,” Johnson said. “We’re as loose as we can be. We know that everyone in the world expects them to win, so we feel we can come in loose and aggressive and see what happens.”