RENO -- Carson coach Paul Croghan said following his team's loss to undefeated Centennial in the state semifinals that the Bulldogs are beatable. Well, there's only one more game left to prove he's right.
Ashley Blake led all scorers with 20 points as Centennial bounced back from a sluggish first half to beat the Senators 62-47 on Thursday in the NIAA/U.S. Bank State Championships at the Lawlor Events Center. The Bulldogs are the first team from the South to advance to the state championship since 1979 when Chapparal did. They'll take their 33-0 record into tonight's state championship game at 8:10 p.m. against Douglas/Bishop Gorman.
The Tigers outlasted the Gaels, xx-xx, in the other semifinal on Thursday night.
"They're a good ball club, very well coached," Croghan said of Centennial. "I don't think we were outclassed. They had a few more scorers than we were counting on. They had production from almost everybody on the team."
Carson (20-11) held Centennial's 6-foot center, Darci Sandoval, to only four points, including zero in the first half. That was when the Senators were at their best, jumping out to a 14-8 first quarter lead before the Bulldogs quickly got back into it. There were seven ties and seven lead changes in the first half. But for as well as Carson played, the Bulldogs still led 29-27 at the break.
"We came out kind of flat in the first half," said Centennial coach Karen Weitz "We needed to get back (on defense). If we could run our halfcourt offense, it could help a little bit."
In the third quarter, that held true. The Bulldogs went on a 9-0 run to go up 41-32, most of their points coming from the free throw line as they constantly attacked the basket. Rachael Schein was the biggest beneficiary, going 5-of-6 in the third and 9-of-11 from the game from the free throw line. She finished with 17 points for the game. Centennial went 8-of-10 from the foul line in the third and led 43-36 going into the fourth quarter.
"We went from a two-point deficit to a 8-10 fairly quick in the third quarter," Croghan said.
Centennial further put the clamps on defensively in the fourth, not allowing the Senators to get easy baskets as they had throughout the game. Carson only shot 3-of-9 from the field in the fourth quarter. On the other end, the Bulldogs were equally effective, making 7-of-10 field goals in the quarter to walk away with what seemed like an easy game.
It was anything but for the state's top-ranked team.
Ciarra Christian was hot early, scoring 11 of her 13 points in the first half. Her 3-pointer with 3:27 left in the first quarter sparked a 7-0 run that put the Senators up 14-8. Katie Kotter ended up 12 points and freshman Brittany Puzey had seven for Carson, which was unable to reach the state championship game for the first time since 1996. The Senators won three-straight titles from 1988-90.
Only three years old, Centennial now has a 93-6 record over that span. The Bulldogs have lost in the first round of the state tournament the past two seasons before this year.
"I think they are," Croghan said when asked if the Bulldogs were the best team from South he's seen. "We saw it coming, though. They were getting better the whole time, every year."