Third-place teams usually face a rocky road in the Southern Section boys' basketball playoffs, but Diamond Bar has sidestepped every obstacle.
The Brahmas, who finished third in the Sierra League and were seeded No. 12 in Division I-AA, advanced to tonight's semifinals against another third-place team, Newhall Hart from the Foothill League, at Walnut High.
Diamond Bar (23-7) has yet to face a seeded team in the postseason. The Brahmas defeated Lawndale Leuzinger, 62-59, in the first round and Lancaster, 75-54, in the second. Diamond Bar then faced Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula, which upset third-seeded Lynwood in the opening round, and won, 78-74, to advance to only the second semifinal in school history.
Hart (18-12), which upset second-seeded Moreno Valley Rancho Verde, 63-56, in the second round, is the fourth consecutive unseeded opponent for the Brahmas.
"We've been very fortunate," said Coach Bob Withers, who is in his fourth season at Diamond Bar.
The Brahmas don't have a player taller than 6 feet 2, but they do have one of the top scorers in the Southland in Collin Robinson. A 6-0 senior guard, Robinson had 42 points and eight rebounds against Peninsula and is 27 points from breaking the school season scoring record of 789 points set by Keith Van Horn, an eight-year NBA veteran currently playing for the Dallas Mavericks.
In addition to Diamond Bar, the Sierra League boasts two other semifinalists: Chino Hills Ayala and Glendora, both seeded fourth in their respective divisions.
Ayala (23-6) will play top-seeded Etiwanda (28-1) at Glendora in Division I-AA. Glendora (26-5) will face top-seeded Lake Forest El Toro (24-5) at Cal Poly Pomona in Division I-A.
Ayala Coach Tom Gregory says his team has some confidence after losing by only six points to Etiwanda, 49-43, in the championship game of the Desert Heat Challenge in Palm Springs. The Bulldogs held Etiwanda to its lowest point total of the season.
"We're not afraid of them but we sure have a lot of respect for them," Gregory said. "It was an accomplishment just to complete a pass in that game."
-- Dan Arritt
The best performance of the girls' basketball playoffs so far came from Temecula Valley's Jessie Thompson, who scored 42 points on Saturday in her team's 78-67 victory over Norco.
It was the first loss of the season for Norco (28-1), ranked No. 2 in the Southland by The Times and No. 3 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. It also avenged a 73-62 loss.
Temecula Valley Coach Cathy Ralston credited that earlier game, played on Jan. 22, with being a major factor in beating Norco and its Texas-bound standout, Erika Arriaran, who is one of the top players in the nation.
"The key was the fact that we played them earlier," Ralston said. "The Erika aura, we got over it. We came out of that game telling ourselves that we could have won that game if we'd been better prepared."
To prepare for its rematch, Temecula Valley (26-4) spent its practice Thursday reviewing the tape.
Three-time defending champion Lynwood (25-4) will play host to Temecula Valley tonight at Downey Warren. After reaching the quarterfinals the previous three seasons, it is Temecula Valley's first appearance in a semifinal.
Norco wasn't the only unbeaten team to lose on Saturday. Hesperia (28-1), the fourth-seeded team in Division II-AA, was beaten by 12th-seeded Cerritos, 64-60. Brittney Parker scored a team-high 12 for the Dons, who went on a 10-0 fourth-quarter run to take the lead for good.
Cerritos (20-9) will play top-seeded Fullerton Troy (27-2) tonight at Cerritos Gahr. Cerritos Coach Holly Pawlowski played for Troy Coach Kevin Kiernan from 1995 to '97 when he coached at Cypress College.
Troy beat Cerritos, 67-31, in the second round of the playoffs last year.
In third-seeded Inglewood Morningside's three playoff games, three different players have been the team's leading scorer: Twila Stokes had 25 in a 68-37 victory over Huntington Beach Ocean View; Sonia Miller scored 20 in a 54-51 overtime win over Lakewood Artesia, and Saida Johnson scored 20 in a 52-42 semifinal victory over Newbury Park.
The defending champion Monarchs (24-6) will meet top-seeded Santa Margarita (21-6) for the Division III-AA title either Friday at Long Beach State or Saturday at Azusa Pacific.
-- Martin Henderson