GLENDALE — The Flintridge Prep boys' basketball team already boasts one win over Mission Prep this season.
If the Rebels' fine season is to continue any further, they will have to do it once again.
Flintridge Prep claimed a 77-61 win over Mission Prep on Dec. 30 at the ESPN ISCORE Holiday Classic, but when the two teams hook up again in the CIF Southern Section Division 5-AA semifinals at 7 p.m. today at La Cañada High, the atmosphere will be different and the stakes much higher.
"Part of preparing for Mission Prep is obviously knowing we've played them before," said Flintridge Prep Coach Garrett Ohara, whose team (21-6) shared the Prep League title and is in the semifinals for the first time since 2004, when it made a finals appearance. "The guys have some familiarity and it's good that we have something to refer to, tape-wise.
"We're confident. Our team knows going in this is a team we beat, so it's more of a mental thing, too. It's not like we just show up and we'll beat them again. They have a lot more motivation and the stakes are obviously much higher now."
One big reason for top-seeded Flintridge Prep to be confident is the play of senior center Kenyatta Smith during these playoffs. Smith is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds per game in wins over St. Paul, Whitney and Blair.
"They have Kenyatta Smith, who's obviously a dominant big man and they're a good team," said Mission Prep Coach Terrance Harris, whose freelance team (18-10) is the division's fourth seed. "They've had a great season so far, they're the No. 1 seed for a reason, so we know we're going to have a pretty tough challenge on our hands."
Following Smith's lead, the other Rebels starters have stepped up their play also, as freshman point guard Robert Cartwright, shooting guards Jedrick Eugenio (sophomore) and Kory Hamane (junior) and senior forward Jared Norsworthy have all made big contributions during the playoff run. If Smith can continue to operate freely, it's a good bet the rest of the Rebels will continue to benefit.
"Offensively, defensively, everything's built around Kenyatta," Ohara said. "He's been fantastic and we continue to hope he plays smart like he has and we'll be fine."
The Royals also have a balanced attack, with sophomore guard Andy Rawley (12.3), junior forward Zach Allmon (12.2) and senior forward Art Lane (11.4) all averaging in double figures in scoring on the season.
"They're very balanced, so we know who's better shooters and that sort of thing," Ohara said. "We want to obviously key on some guys and leave other guys, but each of those starters, they're all pretty balanced in terms of who can score.
"I think it's more of how they're going to match up with us."
Harris said his squad's balance extends to defense, as well, where a team-based approach will likely be needed to contain Smith.
"I definitely think we have a relatively balanced attack on our team and we don't run everything through one player or anything like that," Harris said. "We really do try and play team [basketball] and take advantage of matchups.
"I really like the fact that we've been playing together as a team. We've really bought into the team concept, especially defensively. Guys have rallied around each other and been willing to do the right things defensively."