Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 | 12:15 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer glance over both the Sunrise and Sunset regional playoff brackets. Will there be any surprises or teams other than Bishop Gorman, Canyon Springs and Foothill representing Southern Nevada next week in Reno?
Sometimes, coach knows best.
When Centennial blew a fourth-quarter lead at Arbor View last December, its players were completely distraught. The Bulldogs couldn’t even think about the season ahead of them in the moment after losing to their neighboring archrival.
While coach Todd Allen shared the belief that Centennial let one get away, he wanted his players to exhale. He wanted to comfort them.
“I told the kids, ‘this is preparing us for something bigger and better. Let’s get them when it counts,’” Allen recollected.
Allen nailed that prediction like an Eddie Davis three-pointer from the top of the key. When it counted was Thursday night at Durango High in the Sunset Regional semifinals. And Centennial’s 74-60 knockout blow to Arbor View was most certainly bigger and better than the Aggies’ 75-68 win two weeks into the season.
Davis’ 22 points and eight rebounds led Centennial into the Sunset Regional final for the second straight year, where they will again face Bishop Gorman.
“We were feeling horrible after playing Arbor View the first time,” Davis said. “I think (that motivation) was everything. That, and wanting to play Gorman again.”
Davis, a senior center, took it upon himself to do everything in his power to get the Bulldogs back in position to make the state tournament. He sank three three-point shots in the opening four minutes to build Centennial a lead that it held on to for the vast majority of the contest.
Senior point guard Khalil Thompson set up all three triples in establishing himself early as the the night’s other standout. Thompson had 21 points, eight assists, three steals and...
“No turnovers,” Allen said with a smile. “That was huge for us. If we can take care of the basketball like that, then we can be in any game.”
Davis, Thompson and Garett Scheer — who had 14 points and 15 rebounds — had even more of the onus than usual fall on them against the Aggies. Centennial’s leading scorer, freshman phenom Troy Brown, spent all but four minutes of the first half on the bench after getting into foul trouble.
The Bulldogs scored and rebounded admirably without Brown, but they felt his absence defensively. Arbor View senior Justin Burks, one of the top players in the valley, erupted for 10 first-half points mostly while Brown rested on the bench.
Burks scored in a variety of ways — a corner three, a transition layup, a dunk in traffic among them — to put Arbor View down just one at halftime despite Centennial’s five baskets from beyond the arc. But Burks only mustered one field goal in the entire second half with Brown — who finished with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds despite the limited minutes — pressuring him.
“Holding them to 60 points,” Allen shook his head. “I still can’t believe it. The kids played great defense tonight.”
The one exception might have come midway through the third quarter when Arbor View, mostly behind Terrell Butler who had a team-high 19 points, all of a sudden captured a 40-36 lead.
The Aggies held onto the advantage for all of 43 seconds before the Bulldogs went back ahead and started on a 13-2 run. Davis hit another three during the key stretch, while Thompson swiped two steals and Brown snagged every loose ball in sight.
Centennial won the rebounding battle by 16 boards.
“All season, all we’ve been thinking about is rebounding because that sets up our offense,” Davis said. “It definitely played a key role in the game.”
Other than the defeat to Arbor View, the only two blips on Centennial’s 25-3 record were losses to Gorman. The Bulldogs would like to serve the Gaels the same revenge they presented the Aggies, but know it will be difficult with the two losses coming by 23 and 16 points.
It means a lot to Centennial just to get the opportunity, though. It’s a chance the Bulldogs couldn’t begin to fathom after the anguish of their first loss to the Aggies.
“It took time,” Davis said. “It took practice. We just came together and played together. Coach Allen, the first thing he said was, ‘play together.’”