Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 | 12:30 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer discuss the high school basketball playoffs, disagreeing on both brackets. Case likes Canyon Springs to win the Sunrise Regional; Ray think they lose in the first round.
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As painful as Palo Verde’s two regular season losses to divisional rival Centennial were, the Panthers wouldn’t have reached the Sunset Regional Finals without them.
Palo Verde corrected the mistakes from the previous two defeats Thursday night in the regional semifinals and cruised to a 79-66 victory over Centennial. The Panthers never trailed.
“We wanted to come out enthused, not play in spurts,” Palo Verde coach Jermone Riley said. “I think in this game each possession we played like there was no tomorrow. That was so important.”
Riley identified two major areas that Palo Verde needed to fix from the previous losses to Centennial, which came by six and three points.
First, the Panthers had to shoot better from the free-throw line. They went 26-for-34 Thursday night.
Secondly, Palo Verde had to cut down on the open looks available to Centennial twins Marcus and Malcolm Allen. The Panthers switched to a man-to-man defense for this game after playing zone against the Bulldogs the first two times.
Their two best players were tasked with slowing the Allen twins. Eris Winder received the assignment to guard Malcolm Allen. Nahjee Matlock was on Marcus Allen.
“Once we learned how to stop them, it was a whole different game,” Winder said. “We pressured them more. We didn’t give them any easy shots. The other two games they got open shots, but this time we didn’t allow that.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 13-point lead with less than a minute to go in the first quarter by frustrating the Bulldogs with a high-pace full-court press. Although they eventually backed down the pressure, the lead kept building.
With a minute to go in the second quarter, Palo Verde was up by 17. With a minute to go in the third quarter, the Panthers had increased their advantage to 23.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Centennial started hitting shots. That was far too late.
“We lost to them two times,” Winder said, “but we beat them when it counted most.”
An inspired effort from Winder paved the way. The junior sensation had 33 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
He knocked down four 3-point shots with Matlock, who had 13 points, chipping in with an assist on three of them.
“I just knew I had to come out strong for us to get a big lead,” Winder said. “Usually, I come out looking for other players and try to get my assists up. I’m trying to average a double-double, but this game I knew it was time to shine.”
Winder benefited from Palo Verde’s utter domination on the glass. The Panthers finished with 12 more rebounds than the Bulldogs.
At halftime, Palo Verde had out-rebounded Centennial 24-8. Jordyn Martin, who had eight points and 12 rebounds, and Michael Buchanan, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, took control of the game with their interior prowess.
It’s something they’ll have to continue Friday when Palo Verde encounters the state’s tallest and best team, Bishop Gorman, in its quest to reach the state tournament. The two Summerlin schools share a heated rivalry, but Gorman hasn’t lost to a Las Vegas team in three years.
“We know what we’re up against,” Riley said. “Athletes, great coaching, great school, a lot of fans. But a lot of our kids have faith. I’m a faithful guy. They know tomorrow isn’t promised, but anything is possible.”