Santa Monica's Chris Smith, right, makes a layup over Royal center… (Steve Galluzzo / For The…)
Despite its youth, Corona Centennial High is proof that solid execution and hustle can trump experience. The Huskies have two sophomore starters and three more sophomores and a freshman as reserves, but they did not panic after falling behind by 10 points in the first three minutes Friday night in the semifinals of the Oaks Christian tournament.
Senior guard Sam Finley scored 28 points, junior forward Deontae North had 15 and sophomore point guard Sedrick Barefield survived early foul trouble to score nine points as Centennial allowed only 24 points in the second half of a 69-63 victory over previously unbeaten Fresno Bullard.
"We didn't make any adjustments in the second half, we just did a better job of doing what we wanted to do from the start," Centennial Coach Josh Giles said. "We're not a finished product, but we're learning from wins rather than from losses."
North began the second half with a steal and layup to tie the score, then made a three-pointer to put Centennial ahead. Finley stole the ball and drove for a layup, then Barefield hit successive three-pointers to cap a 13-0 run that gave the Huskies a 47-36 lead with 5:01 left in the third quarter.
Bullard scored the first 10 points of the game and led, 14-4, after three minutes. The Huskies (14-1), ranked No. 8 in the Southland by The Times, clawed back and had a chance to take the lead at the end of the first quarter, but Finley missed a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Centennial took a 53-44 lead into the fourth quarter. Corey Silverstrom hit a three-pointer to narrow the Huskies' lead to 68-63 with 12.4 seconds left. Finley was fouled intentionally and sank one of two free throws with 9.5 seconds left and the Knights were unable to score again.
"We make a lot of mistakes, but we make up for them with effort," Giles said. "What I was most impressed with is our conditioning. Bullard wears a lot of teams out by the fourth quarter, but we didn't get tired."
Also advancing to Saturday's championship game was Santa Monica, which rallied from a six-point halftime deficit to defeat Simi Valley Royal, 60-56. No. 12 Santa Monica (11-3) and Centennial will play for the title at 8:30 p.m. at Oaks Christian.
Cal-bound star Jordan Mathews was held to 12 points, including a jumper that tied it with 2:32 remaining.
He then passed to forward Chris Smith for a dunk that gave the Vikings a 56-54 lead with 2:08 left.
Erron Vaughn's free throw put Santa Monica ahead for good and Smith added the final basket with 27 seconds left and a free throw with 11.6 seconds to go provided the final margin. Smith had 13 points and Trevis Jackson added seven for Santa Monica (11-3), ranked No. 12 by The Times.
"This does a lot for our confidence, to win when two of our best players [Mathews and Troy Maloney] fouled out," Smith said. "That team was very disciplined and plays good defense but I think their style matches perfectly with ours and it gives us an edge to have to fight to win."
Scott Woods had 11 points and Chris Terry added seven for the Highlanders (11-3), who trailed early but took a 40-34 halftime lead on Max McCoy's three-pointer at the buzzer.