- Blair Angulo, Reporter, WeAreSC.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Understandably, Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight didn't want to get into the specifics of his halftime speech. Coaches don't share many secrets.
"I talked about intensity," McKnight hinted, "and I was pretty aggressive about it."
Whatever McKnight said seemed to spark Mater Dei, which erased a seven-point halftime deficit to beat Corona Centennial, 76-64, Saturday night at Galen Center and advance to next week's CIF State Division I boys' basketball championship game in Sacramento. The fourth-seeded Monarchs outscored the second-seeded Huskies 49-30 in the second half.
"We came out knowing we had nothing to lose," said Katin Reinhardt, who led Mater Dei with 19 points. "We came out wanting a state title."
Junior Xavier Johnson had 16 and freshman Stanley Johnson had 14 and 12 rebounds for the Monarchs (31-3). Dominique Dunning and Michael Caffey led the way for the Huskies (30-5) with 20 and 19 points, respectively. Mater Dei outrebounded Centennial 43-23.
"We had fire in our hearts," Xavier Johnson said.
Things looked promising for Centennial at the break, as the Huskies stormed into the tunnel leading 34-27 behind a combined 27 points from its touted trio of Dunning, Caffey and Gelaun Wheelwright. Fast-paced Centennial attempted 11 more fields goals than Mater Dei in the first half.
It all changed in the third. Mater Dei used a 9-2 run to pull even and capped the quarter on a 9-0 spurt to go in front, 47-42. Centennial went cold, making just three of 16 attempts (18.8 percent) in the third.
"We started off the second half as bad as we could have," Centennial coach Josh Giles said, shaking his head.
Mater Dei didn't have to wait long to avenge its CIF Southern Section Division 1AA semifinal loss to Centennial. The Huskies had basically stolen that game from the Monarchs' grasp, coming back from 15 down to win, 60-58, March 1 at Anaheim Arena.
"That's the thing," Reinhardt said, "we didn't want to lose again. We couldn't lose again. They knock us off our CIF run and we just proved that we can beat that team. We should have won the first time."
Blair Angulo covers preps and UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.