That apparently mattered little to Reno. The Huskies scored the first 11 points of the game and never trailed en route to a stunning 60-41 upset of the perennial state power Bulldogs at the University of Nevada’s Lawlor Events Center.
“We played an excellent game,” Reno coach Shane Foster said. “We talked that we had to play an excellent game and handle their pressure. But we said if we did, we’d have a chance to win.
“The kids were composed. As the game went along, you could truly see it in their eyes. They knew they could win the game.”
Reno and Centennial met in a pair of non-league games in December. Centennial won both in dominating fashion but could not replicate the feat a third time. A fast start and a hot-shooting night from the Huskies, the Northern 4A runner-up, doomed Centennial. Reno shot 19-of-36 (53 percent) from the field compared to a 13-of-54 (24 percent) performance by Centennial. Reno missed just four shots in the second half.
The relentless full-court pressure Centennial has made its trademark left Reno unfazed Thursday. The RHS club turned the ball over just 11 times and played with composure throughout the 32-minute affair, keeping the Bulldogs from scoring easy buckets in transition.
“That’s the best game we’ve played all year,” Foster said. “To only have 11 turnovers against that pressure is excellent.
“We handled their pressure well. We back cut a lot and then by the second half they weren’t quite as much in our face.”
Reno could not have gotten off to a better start. Junior guard Gigi Hascheff knocked down a 3-pointer on the game’s first possession. Reno forced a turnover on the ensuing Centennial possession and then Shay Shaw drained a trey, leaving the Huskies up 6-0, 49 seconds into the state tournament tilt.
A minute later, Hascheff canned another 3-pointer and then Shaw dropped in a layup with 5:44 showing on the first-half clock, pushing the Reno lead to 11-0.
Centennial scored nine of the next 12 points to get within 14-9, but Hascheff stayed hot, dropping another 3-pointer in the final minute of the initial period. That left the Huskies holding a 17-9 lead at the first quarter’s conclusion.
Reno pushed its lead back to double digits, 22-11, after Morgan McGwire got a hook shot to fall in the post with 5:34 left before halftime. The two teams traded buckets into the break and Reno took a 28-19 lead into the intermission.
“We didn’t come to play, plain and simple,” veteran Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “That’s not my team. That’s not the way we defend. We didn’t respond and I told them you can’t do that at this stage.
“The slow start killed us. It didn’t hurt us. It killed us.”
Hascheff was a big reason for the Huskies’ solid start. She connected on 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and had 18 points in the first two quarters. She finished with a game-high 26 points.
Centennial tried to hang around. The Bulldogs, who had not been to a state tournament in Reno since 2004, but had won two of the last three 4A titles, outscored Reno 16-13 in the third period. That trimmed Reno’s lead to 41-35 after three quarters.
Centennial then tacked on the first points of the fourth quarter thanks to a Jada Brown layup. That got the Sunset Region champions within four points, 41-37.
However, that’s as good as it got for the Bulldogs. Reno responded with eight straight points, a run capped by a Hascheff runner with 5:35 to go in the game. The spurt forged Reno ahead 49-37.
The margin was still 10, 50-40, after a Paige Barber free throw with 3:06 left. Reno proceeded to score 10 of the game’s final 11 points to account for the 19-point romp.
Reno had been dominated on the glass in the second meeting between the two schools, the championship game of Centennial’s Christmas Break tournament. The Bulldogs out-rebounded Reno 41-14 in that clash.
Thursday’s story was much different. Reno held its own on the boards in the postseason clash, only getting beat 38-35 in the rebounding department.
McGwire pulled down 11 of those for Reno while also chipping in seven points. In addition to Hascheff’s stellar outing, the Huskies got 10 points from CC Sobrio, nine from Shannon Gough and eight from Shaw.
“Gigi was huge in this game,” Foster said. “Shannon was a little frustrated as they concentrated on denying her the ball. But she didn’t get flustered. She handled it. She didn’t score it a lot but we didn’t need her to score a lot because we had other kids stepping up.”
Centennial won four straight 4A titles form 2002 to 2005. Then also won again in 2009 and 2011. The loss was only Centennial’s second in a state tournament game since 2001. The other came in 2007. Thursday’s loss also snapped the Bulldogs’ 23-game winning streak.
“We didn’t play defense,” Weitz said. “What defense? There was none. Did we play defense? I didn’t see defense. That’s not the defense I know. That’s not Bulldog defense. It’s just stunning to me and none of them have answers. That’s not my team.”
Breanna Workman and Brown led the CHS offense Thursday, finishing with 11 and 10 points respectively.
The 41-point outing was the worst offensive production by a Centennial team since it was limited to 39 by eventual state champion Bishop Gorman in February of 2008.
“They’ve never had any leadership. I’ve told them that all year long,” Weitz said of her squad. “We’ve had a problem with consistency and leadership. I told them ‘You better be careful because it’ll bite you when you get in a tight game or get in a big game. Whose back are you jumping on? Who are you going to look like. I’m ready to fight with you. Whose back are you going to jump on from the start of the game?’ They can’t jump on the coach’s back at this stage. We’ve done all we can.”
Reno’s win, coupled with Bishop Gorman not qualifying for the state tournament, guarantees a school other than Centennial or Gorman will win a state title for the first time since Reno won the 2001 championship.
The Huskies tip off the state final tonight at 6 p.m.