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Inland Empire and LA North: Centennial 94, Taft 81

EASTVALE — The Corona Centennial boys’ basketball team dug a deep hole for Woodland Hills Taft in the opening five minutes of their Southern California Regional Division 1 semifinal Saturday and made sure the Toreadors didn’t see any daylight the rest of the way in the 94-81 victory at Roosevelt High.

“We knew we could get out on top of them early,” said Centennial senior guard Dominique Dunning. “Luckily, we’re hot.”

The second-seeded Huskies advanced to meet fourth-seeded Mater Dei in the regional championship game Saturday at USC's Galen Center. Mater Dei upset top-seeded Long Beach Poly, 72-55, on Saturday, setting up a rematch with Centennial, which beat the Monarchs last week in a Southern Section Division 1AA semifinal.

The rematch between Centennial and third-seeded Taft played out differently than when the teams met Dec. 29 in a fifth-place semifinal of the prestigious National Division at the Torrey Pines Holiday Classic, but the result was the same. In the first meeting, the Huskies rallied from six points down at the start of the fourth quarter to win, 61-58.

The second time around, the Huskies surged to a 24-9 lead with 3 minutes 12 seconds still remaining in the opening quarter and didn’t allow Taft to get any closer than five the rest of the way.

Gelaun Wheelwright, coming off a 38-point performance in a quarterfinal victory Thursday against Westchester, scored 24 points to lead Centennial.

“The last three games, he’s making everything,” said Centennial coach Josh Giles. “He’s an unbelievable shot maker.”

Dunning contributed 21 points and nine rebounds and Michael Caffey had 17 points and 11 assists.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 19 points in his final game at Taft before continuing his career at Colorado. C.J. Blackwell scored 18 points before sitting out the final seven minutes because of a knee injury and 6-foot-10 center Kevin Johnson had 13 points.

The Huskies, without a player taller than 6-4, defeated Taft the only way they could, starting with the opening tip.

“With their size, we’ve got to get the game going up and down the floor and it started off perfect,” Giles said. “We were making shots from everywhere and we got the game going at our pace.”

The Huskies made 19 of 26 field-goal attempts in the first half and shot 67.3 percent from the field for the game (33-for-49).

The Huskies also received key contributions from Dominic Dunlap (13 points) and Deion Reynolds (11 points).

“Dom and Deion are a big part of our team,” Dunning said. “If they’re hitting stuff, they can’t double us.”

Taft coach Derrick Taylor said he hasn’t seen a team carve up his defense the way Centennial did. The Toreadors came into the game giving up an average of 47.9 points a game but Centennial surpassed that on Wheelwright’s 3-point basket with three seconds left in the first half.

“They had 52 points in the first half. We don’t give up that much combined the whole season,” Taylor said. “They caused our defense to be bad. All the credit goes to them. We tried, they were just better.”