CORONA — The Centennial boys basketball program has made the cozy confines of its gymnasium a true fortress in recent seasons.
Harvard-Westlake is one of the few programs to have much success in Centennial’s gym over the past four years, and the Wolverines knocked down the walls again Tuesday evening and conquered the Huskies.
Trent Perry, Nikolas Khamenia and Brady Dunlap combined to score 63 points as Harvard-Westlake led from start to finish and routed the defending state champion Huskies 80-61 to win the CIF State Open Division regional championship and book its trip to Sacramento for the state finals.
Harvard-Westlake (32-2) will square off against Santa Maria St. Joseph (28-6) on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Golden 1 Center. This is Harvard-Westlake’s fifth trip to the state finals and first since winning the Division IV championship in 2016.
Centennial (30-4) saw its 52-game winning streak against in-state opponents and a 29-game home winning streak come to an end Tuesday. The last program to beat Centennial in both cases was Harvard-Westlake, which handed the Huskies a 70-65 loss on March 28, 2021.
Tuesday’s victory was the fifth time Harvard-Westlake has beaten Centennial over the past four seasons and the fourth time the Wolverines have prevailed in Corona.
“We have great players. They have great players,” Wolverines coach David Rebibo said after the game. “Styles are an important part of basketball games, and I think we do a great matching up against them. We presented a few issues and did a good job exploiting them.”
Centennial and Harvard-Westlake have been the state’s top-ranked squads much of the season, which made Tuesday’s regional championship one of the most anticipated games of the year. The teams were the No. 1 and No 2 seeds, respectively, in the CIF Southern Section’s Open Division playoffs and were expected to meet in the section finals.
Centennial took care of business and ultimately won the title. St. John Bosco stunned Harvard-Westlake in pool play, but the Wolverines avenged that loss Saturday in the regional semifinals to earn their shot at Centennial.
Harvard-Westlake showed no fear Tuesday night, making nine of its first 12 shots from the field, including 4-of-5 shooting from behind the arc, to grab a 23-16 advantage.
Perry led the way in the first period, making 5 of 7 shots en route to 13 points.
Centennial managed to keep pace, making 9 of 13 shots in the opening quarter, including 6 of 8 to close out the period. McDonald’s All-American Jared McCain had eight points to get the Huskies within 23-20 after the opening period.
“We came out on fire, and so did they,” said Perry, who finished with a game-high 25 points before injuring his shoulder during the final quarter. “At the end, I think we did a great good executing and ended up pulling away.”
Perry picked up his second foul with 5:49 remaining in the second quarter and Harvard-Westlake leading 28-24. Centennial could not take advantage of Perry’s absence, however, as the Huskies turned the ball over seven times in the period and were outscored 13-7 with Perry on the bench.
Khamenia and Dunlap each scored seven points in the second period to help the Wolverines extend the lead.
Both teams were efficient with their shooting in the first half, Harvard-Westlake made 16 of 27 from the field (6 of 13 on 3-pointers), Centennial made 13 of 21 shots (3 of 6 from distance).
Centennial went on an 8-2 run early in the third quarter to cut the deficit to six points, but Harvard-Westlake answered back with a 13-0 run to take control and never looked back. Perry started the run with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Dunlap capped it with another 3-pointer.
Any chance Centennial had for a comeback was dashed early in the fourth quarter, as the Huskies turned the ball over on four of their first six possessions. Khamenia and Dunlap sank 3-pointers to extend Harvard-Westlake’s lead to 67-44 with 5:49 remaining in the game.
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Khamenia and Dunlap finished the night with 20 and 18 points, respectively, and Jacob Huggins added eight points and eight rebounds while providing solid rim protection throughout the game.
It was a tough ending for Centennial, which was looking to win a second consecutive Open Division state championship. The program and its outstanding senior class had a phenomenal four-year run, going 111-12 and becoming the first in CIF Southern Section history to win three straight Open Division titles.
McCain capped his career by scoring a team-high 21 points. Eric Freeny added 15 points, while Aaron McBride finished with nine points.