Harvard-Westlake boys basketball looks to make history in Open Division showdown at Sierra Canyon

Harvard-Westlake boys basketball coach David Rebibo spent 20 minutes breaking down film of Sierra Canyon before the team’s practice Thursday afternoon. He pointed out key tendencies, a couple of plays to be aware of, and observations of the Trailblazers’ relentless defensive pressure.

But the most important message he delivered came at the end of the session when the film was no longer running.

“You’re good enough,” he told his team. “You need to go to bed thinking it and wake up believing it.”

Harvard-Westlake (23-2) will play at Sierra Canyon (24-3) on Friday night for what is an unofficial CIF Southern Section Open Division semifinal, as the winner of the pool-play game will advance to the championship game next week against No. 1-seeded Corona Centennial.

The game is at 7:30 p.m. and will be on KDOC.

Sierra Canyon and Harvard-Westlake are both 2-0 in pool play after they each beat Notre Dame and Mater Dei.

The air surrounding this game is familiar for Sierra Canyon. The Trailblazers are attempting to make their fifth straight appearance in the Open Division final and their sixth in seven years.

Harvard-Westlake has never made it to an Open Division final.

“It’s hard not to think about what the game means,” Harvard-Westlake senior Landon Lewis said. “We’ve been chasing that dream since before we were practicing outside because of COVID. We know we have to win to advance, but we also say the next game is the most important.”

Harvard-Westlake and Sierra Canyon have been the area’s top basketball programs for the past three years, yet they’ve only crossed paths one time. It came in the Open Division playoffs in March of 2020, a week before the pandemic forced widespread shutdowns in the area. Sierra Canyon topped Harvard-Westlake 75-65 at Pepperdine in front of a sold out crowd.

Sierra Canyon needed a late rally Tuesday to beat Mater Dei. Harvard-Westlake dismantled Mater Dei last week, winning by 22 points. But common opponents mean nothing in game like this one. The Trailblazers’ rotation is deep, which helps them to press and trap a majority of the game. Handling that pressure will be a huge emphasis for Harvard-Westlake.

Sierra Canyon hosts Notre Dame in CIF-SS Open Division playoff action February 11, 2022.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)
“We expect a lot of pressure with their athletes. We know they have really good players and we need to match their athleticism with execution and following the game plan,” senior guard Cameron Thrower said.

Sierra Canyon’s talent is unmatched. Amari Bailey, Kijani Wright, Isaiah Elohim, Trentyn Flowers, Bronny James, Mike Price, Jeremiah Nyarko, Shy Odom and Ramel Lloyd are all NCAA Division I-caliber players. Bailey and Wright are McDonald’s All-Americans. Elohim and Flowers are five-star recruits. James and Price are four-star rated juniors.

Harvard-Westlake has next-level guys, too.

Thrower, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, is headed to Penn, and 6-foot-8 forward Landon Lewis is committed to Brown. Jacob Huggins is a three-star, 6-foot-7 forward with an offer from San Diego State, and sophomore Trent Perry is a rising prospect. However, Harvard-Westlake’s most highly-touted player is 6-foot-7 junior Brady Dunlap, who has garnered offers from Kansas and Arkansas.

He’s ready for the challenge that comes with facing Sierra Canyon.

“In the game, there are battles within the war, and I want to win my battle (against other top players) for the betterment of the team,” Dunlap said, “but I think I was focusing on that too much earlier this season. Now, my focus is solely on the team’s success. If I score 25 points, fine. If I score six points, that’s fine, too. As long as we win.

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