Los Angeles Preps: Corona Centennial boys' basketball team

Inland Empire and LA South: Corona Centennial 68, Westchester 57

March, 10, 2011

CORONA — Gelaun Wheelwright is getting pretty adept at picking up the slack.

The senior guard for the Corona Centennial boys’ basketball team had to carry some of the scoring load for hobbled teammate Michael Caffey and he came through with 38 points Thursday night in a 68-57 victory against Westchester in CIF Southern California Regional Division 1 quarterfinal at Centennial.

The Huskies advanced to host Woodland Hills Taft in the regional semifinals Saturday night. Centennial beat the Toreadors earlier this season at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic.

As the second-seeded team, Centennial has enjoyed home-court advantage through the first two rounds. Wheelwright said the comfortable confines has helped spark his stellar play. The Huskies had just one home game in the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs, which ended with a loss to top-seeded Long Beach Poly in the championship game at Anaheim Convention Center.

“I feel good playing in front of a bunch of my peers,” said Wheelwright, who signed with Weber State. “They get me focused and ready to play.”

Caffey, who signed with Long Beach State, sprained his right ankle in the third quarter of a first-round victory Tuesday against visiting Redlands East Valley and did not return. Wheelwright finished with 31 points in that win.

As recently as Thursday morning, Caffey was still on crutches.

“I honestly didn’t know if I was going to play or not because it was killing me,” Caffey said of his ankle. “I was a little slower than usual but then my adrenaline started pumping.”

Caffey finished with seven points, including a big 3-point basket early in the fourth quarter that broke a 48-48 tie.

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Inland Empire: Centennial 89, Redlands East Valley 73

March, 8, 2011

CORONA—One of the best aspects of Southern California Regional basketball playoffs is they give teams a second chance.

The Corona Centennial boys’ team is grateful to have another opportunity to end its season on a winning after losing by 16 points Saturday against Long Beach Poly in the Southern Section Division 1AA championship game.

The Huskies weren’t about to let this one slip away.

Gelaun Wheelwright scored 31 points and Dominique Dunning had 28 to lead the second-seeded Huskies to an 89-73 victory Tuesday night against visiting Redlands East Valley in the opening round of the Division 1 regionals.

“Our team really came out focused and ready to play so we can get another crack at them,” Wheelwright said of the top-seeded Jackrabbits.

Of course, a number of talented teams still stand between Centennial and Poly, but the Huskies are prepared to go through anybody. They already have a victory this season against third-seeded Woodland Hills Taft.

“We know we can compete with anybody in there,” Dunning said. “We’re just as confident as anybody else.”

Redlands East Valley (25-8) stayed with Centennial (28-4) during the first half, thanks in part to 14 first-half points from REV guard Greg Dishman. Leading by nine points at halftime, the Huskies used a 10-0 run early in the third quarter to take a 55-37 lead and the Wildcats never pulled back within single digits.

With Long Beach State-bound point guard Michael Caffey nursing a sprained ankle for much of the second half, Wheelwright and Dunning picked up the slack. Wheelwright scored 19 points after halftime and Dunning had 16.

Wheelwright sank five three-point baskets.

“I guess today was my night,” he said. “Luckily they were falling.”

Redlands East Valley guard Terrell Todd said it wasn’t Centennial’s shooting ability that put the Wildcats in a hole, but its speed.

“They were faster than us,” Todd said. “We never played a different team like that. They were fast, pushed the ball and we couldn’t handle it.”

Wheelwright said he sensed the Huskies defensive pressure was also giving REV problems.

“Our pressure helped a lot,” he said. “They were nervous when they got into the traps and we forced a lot of turnovers.”

Dishman did his part, making a season-high seven three-pointers and scoring a season-best 28 points. Todd, the team’s leading scorer at 20.3 points a game, finished with 14 and Pepperdine-bound center Paulin Mpawe had 10.

Centennial will play host to Westchester on Thursday in their second round game.

Division 1AA boys basketball semifinal: Corona Centennial 60, Mater Dei 58

March, 1, 2011

ANAHEIM—Down by 10 points with two minutes remaining in the third quarter against one of the premier boys' basketball programs in the state, Corona Centennial had every right to panic.

Yet the Huskies remained cool as an igloo.

Instead of throwing in the towel, they relied on their speed, experience and emotion to get them back into the Southern Section Division 1AA semifinal Tuesday night against Mater Dei, then persevered down the stretch in the 60-58 victory at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“We never panicked,” said Centennial coach Josh Giles.

Centennial (27-3) will return to the Anaheim Convention Center for Saturday’s championship game against top-seeded Long Beach Poly at 6 p.m. It's the Huskies' third section final appearance in school history.

After a 20-3 run gave the third-seeded Huskies a 54-47 lead with about four minutes remaining, second-seeded Mater Dei was suddenly in catch-up mode for the first time in the game.

The Monarchs pulled within one on Eli Stalzer's three-point basket with 21 seconds left but that’s as close as they would get, as Centennial back-up point guard Chris Popov made one of two free throws with 15.9 seconds left. Stalzer was then fouled on the other end as he drove to the basket but missed his first free-throw attempt with 9.3 seconds remaining.

He made the second and Popov was fouled again but not until nearly five seconds ticked off the clock. He made the first and missed the second, but the Monarchs could only manage a half-court desperation shot at the buzzer.

Corona Centennial point guard Michael Caffey was the best player on the floor for both teams, scoring a game-high 23 points, along with a team-high eight rebounds and four assists. The Long Beach State-bound senior hit back-to-back three-point baskets early in the fourth quarter to give the Huskies their first lead.

“He makes their team run,” said Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight. “He just makes things happen.”

Katin Reinhardt scored 22 points, Stalzer had 16 and Xavier Johnson 11 for the Monarchs. All three are juniors and should form a strong nucleus next season.

Mater Dei (27-3) shot 66% from the floor in the first half in stretching its lead to 35-23. The Huskies’ determination never waned, however.

“There was never any guys yelling at each other or pointing fingers,” Giles said.

The tide began to turn in the second half as the Monarchs were haunted by 14 turnovers, allowing the Centennial crowd to get behind their team and get under the skin of Mater Dei.

“We let them get to us, get into our heads,” said Johnson, who transferred to Mater Dei from Temecula Chaparral in the offseason. “It got loud in there.”

Caffey said he wasn’t so much inspired by the crowd as Centennial's bench.

“If you make a shot they’re going crazy,” he said. “Our defense and our bench and our crowd helped us tonight.”