By Matt Brooks
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 12:07 AM
RICHMOND - In the two days of practice leading up to Wednesday's Virginia AA Division 4 semifinal against Christiansburg, Potomac Falls discussed the importance of starting strong and playing with the lead - a formula that has served the Panthers well during their run back to VCU's Siegel Center.
What they didn't expect was a 1-0 lead and the ball to start the game.
But after a pregame technical foul on Christiansburg provided a head start, the 12th-ranked Panthers raced to a 12-0 lead and never looked back, holding off a late rally to secure a 59-44 victory and land one win away from back-to-back state championships. Potomac Falls faces Hidden Valley (20-7) Saturday night in the final.
The Blue Demons were penalized for huddling at midcourt before the game and after Lukas Mihailovich hit 1 of 2 free throws, the Panthers (29-1) took the ball and carried the momentum of Saturday's last-second quarterfinal victory over Tabb into the first half. Highlighting their size in the paint and length on the perimeter with an active zone defense, Potomac Falls turned defensive rebounds into fast-break opportunities to build a 21-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
With his team leading 32-15 at the half, Mihailovich had a simple message for his teammates: "Just play defense."
"Being up 17 at halftime, I feel like there's not many teams that are going to outscore us by more than 17 in one half," he said.
After shooting just 15.6 percent in the first half, Christiansburg (25-2) began to find its range, trimming the deficit to seven early in the fourth quarter. But the rebounding and shot-blocking presence of 6-7 forwards Greg Graves and Mickey Wagenhoffer coupled with Christiansburg's 2-for-28 shooting from three-point range kept Potomac Falls in control.
"With me and Greg in the back of the zone, and then Brendon [Chesson], he's very long as well, it's one of the strengths that we have and it worked pretty well," Wagenhoffer said.
Mihailovich led 10 Panther scorers with 21 points - all on layups and free throws - and added nine rebounds and four steals, Graves had 10 points and 12 rebounds and Wagenhoffer provided a boost with 10 points and six rebounds.