Feeling a sense of urgency, senior guard Kajon Mack ignited a second-half comeback Tuesday night that enabled top-seeded Gardena Serra to come away with a 62-50 road victory over Studio City Harvard-Westlake in a quarterfinal game of the Southern Section Division 4AA basketball playoffs.
The Cavaliers (27-2) trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half and were down, 25-19, at halftime.
"My coaches were telling us, 'This will be our last game. Step up or lay down.' We didn't choose to lay down and I had to step up as a leader," Mack said.
Mack scored 13 of his game-high 21 points in the third quarter, when Serra outscored the Wolverines, 25-9. Serra started forcing turnovers with its trapping defense and picked up points with its fastbreak.
Mack, the team's captain, is the player who gets Serra rolling. Coach Dwan Hurt calls him "very special" because of his leadership. The Cavaliers also received 19 points from Daddy Ugbede.
"I knew our team was a little nervous because we were on the road," Hurt said. "The crowd kind of got to them. I told them we haven't given them our best quarter. I said, 'Before we leave tonight, we have to give them at least one good quarter,' and we came out in that third quarter and changed the game."
With both teams loaded with tall players, offensive rebound baskets were hard to come by, and Harvard-Westlake (20-10) took advantage early, slowing the pace and relying on its zone defense. But once Serra changed the tempo in the second half, the Wolverines were in trouble. Josh Hearlihy finished with 13 points and Zena Edosomwan 12.
Serra will play Los Angeles Price in Friday's semifinals. Price won a controversial earlier meeting when the officials disallowed a shot at the buzzer.
"I can't wait for that game," Mack said. "That's who we want."
Price defeated Windward, 76-62, on Tuesday. The other semifinal will match La Verne Lutheran and Encino Crespi. Lutheran defeated Westlake Village Oaks Christian, 50-48. Crespi received 24 points from London Perrantes in a 73-67 win over Torrance Bishop Montgomery.