Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 25, 2011 | 10:27 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer preview this weekend's state basketball tournament. They disagree on whether Eldorado or Sierra Vista will win the play-in game, but see the same outcome regardless.
When Centennial High girls basketball coach Karen Weitz went to get measured for her state championship ring two years, she instructed the fitter to use the dimensions from her wedding-ring finger.
Weitz rarely takes that ring off, proudly sporting something she feels symbolizes what’s she built over the years at Centennial — the state’s most dominating program. Ever.
They added to the legacy Friday night.
The Bulldogs erased a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit against Liberty in the large-school classification championship game, forcing overtime with two free throws from Courtney Hayes with 12 seconds left in regulation and eventually prevailing, 71-65.
The championship is Centennial’s sixth in 10 years, which is the most in large-school classification history by two titles. Weitz’s current ring has the No. 5 on the face, with the yet-to-be designed ring surely include the No. 6 in the design.
“I wear my ring everyday because, to me, every time I look at it, it reminds me how hard I need to work for this program,” Weitz said. “I wear it (on my wedding-ring finger) because my girls always say you are married to basketball and you are married to this team.”
Unlike most of its games this season, when Centennial has won by lopsided scores, it was pushed to the limit against Liberty. Liberty, the Sunrise Region champions, was expected by some to be another one of Centennial’s blowout victims.
And, early on, that looked to be the case.
Centennial (32-1) led by as many as 11 points in the first half and held a 32-24 lead at halftime. It seemed like it was only a matter of time until the Bulldogs pulled away.
But Liberty outscored them by 13 points in the third quarter and had more than its share of chances to put the game away. It’s just hard to get over the hump against the state’s elite program.
Hayes and Jade Brown, two seniors leaders who were part of the title teams two years ago, scored 16 points apiece to lead Centennial. They made clutch play after clutch play down the stretch
“Courtney Hayes has been telling me that this is the way it is going to end, and usually what Courtney Hayes says is how it goes,” Weitz said.
Hayes had nine points in the fourth quarter and overtime, combining with Brown to score Centennial’s initial five points in overtime. Brown converted a short jumper in the lane while being fouled with a little more than two minutes remaining to give Centennial the lead for good.
“I trust my teammates,” said Brown, who will play at Louisiana Tech next year. “No matter what five (players) we have out there, I trust my teammates to get the job done. We never panic or lost confidence.”
Junior Shannon Brown added a double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds, including 10 offensive rebounds to help Centennial control the inside. Being the aggressor, the Bulldogs spent most of the game at the foul line, converting 31 of 41 attempts in fighting off the upset.
“Liberty is a well-coached team. And they fight and they play hard,” Weitz said. “I give all the credit to them for making this a ball game. They should be proud.”
Liberty would have become the first Henderson school to win a state title. Instead, the best season in the program’s eight-year existence ended one game short of making history.
Still, a second consecutive Sunrise championship and a state semifinals victory Thursday against Bishop Gorman is plenty to be proud of. The victory against Gorman was the first time since Silverado did it more than 10 years ago that a Henderson team won a game in the state tournament.
Liberty finished 27-3 overall, with its loss to Centennial the lone defeat to a local opponent. It snapped a 17-game winning steak.
“We didn’t accidentally fall into the Orleans,” Liberty coach Quintin Lester jokingly said. “We earned our right to be here, too. We knew coming in that we were considered huge underdogs, but that didn’t matter. You still have to play the game.”
It was just two years ago, when Washington and Delgado were sophomores, that Liberty won the program’s first playoff game. They nearly capped their career with the ultimate prize.
“I’m proud of the girls. It was a great run,” Lester said.
Centennial won its first state title in 2002 — the first of four straight championships. Each one carries special significance.
“It’s the history of the program for these kids,” Weitz said. “It is not their first (title). This is their sixth one, because you embrace and hold the tradition that started several years ago.”