NORTH HOLLYWOOD — The end of finals week made for some mighty fatigued players during Thursday night's Mission League basketball showdown between Notre Dame and Harvard-Westlake highs.
But in what might have been a final test for league supremacy, the Wolverines pulled ahead in the second half to post a 57-43 victory at Harvard.
Harvard (20-1, 8-0), completing a two-game sweep of Notre Dame (15-6, 6-2), moved two games ahead of the Knights with four games to play.
The Wolverines, ranked second in The Times' regional poll, were all smiles afterward.
"I think a lot of the smiles were of relief," Harvard Coach Greg Hilliard said. "They're glad to be over finals week. Ben Robbins got only three hours' sleep last night. That's standard operating procedure at this school."
Added 6-foot-10 sophomore center Jason Collins: "We're all tired. We didn't concentrate so much on basketball this week and it showed."
As always, Collins was the Wolverines' go-to guy, particularly down the stretch. He finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds.
Collins scored 17 points in the second half, which began with Harvard ahead, 25-18. Collins scored 13 points in the final 10 minutes, after Notre Dame pulled to within 35-33.
Twin Jarron Collins, equally the focus of a fired-up Notre Dame defense, was held to four points and had nine rebounds.
"This is a big rivalry and they're a good team," Jason Collins said. "We had to win. Now everybody's got to try to catch us . . . or catch Notre Dame for second place."
Notre Dame came out with visions of an upset and grabbed a 5-2 lead on a three-point basket by guard Tommy Zapata, who had 14 points. For the better part of three quarters, the Knights remained within striking distance.
"I think we're disappointed because we had a chance to win this game," Notre Dame Coach Chris Perez said. "For almost the entire game, we played them close. Our kids were tired because of finals. Our legs were a little tired down the stretch and we missed some shots."
Momentum shifted quickly in the final two minutes of the third quarter. Robbins, who finished with eight points and five assists, made a jump shot to give Harvard a 37-33 lead.
In the final seconds of the quarter, Jason Collins rebounded his own shot and made a layup to beat the buzzer.
"We had finals too, but that's not an excuse," said Notre Dame guard Ryan Bowne, who had two points and four fouls. "I didn't shoot well and things didn't go our way."