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Liberty looks to bring home first state girls basketball title

Chad Kapanui wasn’t shy in describing the Liberty girls basketball team.

“This could be one of the best teams I’ve ever had,” the Patriots coach said.

Expectations are high for Liberty as it makes its sixth consecutive appearance in the state tournament. But it has never brought home the title, something it’s looking to change when the Class 4A tournament begins Thursday at Lawlor Events Center in Reno. Liberty (30-2) meets McQueen (18-9) at 3 p.m., with Centennial (27-3) playing Reno (22-7) in the other semifinal at 6:30.

If the Patriots are to win, they’ll do so behind three senior guards, including two Power Five players. Rae Burrell, Dre’una Edwards and London Pavlica, all potential all-state players, played together for the first time this season, and all they did was lead Liberty to a 30-2 record.

“It’s like LeBron, KD and Kyrie on a court together,” Kapanui said. “It’s something like that for sure.”

Liberty didn’t have Burrell last season. The Foothill transfer was one of Nevada’s top players, and after helping the Falcons beat Liberty in last year’s Sunrise Region title game, joined the Patriots. She has committed to Tennessee.

Two years ago, Liberty didn’t have Edwards. The Utah commit transferred from out of state before the 2015-16 season and leads Class 4A with 18.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

Three years ago, Liberty didn’t have Pavlica, who began playing varsity ball as a sophomore. She led the squad in assists this season.

“We’ve meshed really well together,” Burrell said. “It’s so nice to have supporting players to bounce off what each other do and really make each other better.”

The best encapsulation of the three came in the championship game of the Tarkanian Classic. Pavlica set the tone early with two 3-pointers, and when Liberty fell behind in the closing seconds, Edwards inbounded to Pavlica, who dished to Burrell for the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to tie the score at the end of regulation.

Edwards scored 14 points in overtime to give the Patriots the championship.

“It’s very cool to know that someone has my back on everything,” Edwards said.

The biggest obstacle to Liberty’s first state title might be the other local team traveling to Reno. Centennial has won the past three state championships and beat Spring Valley, which handed Liberty its two losses, by 30 points in the Sunset Region title game. Centennial also has defeated Liberty in the state tournament each of the past two seasons.

But this might be the best Liberty team in program history. McQueen comes Thursday, and should the Patriots advance, Centennial could be waiting Friday.

“I’ve been through this already two times, and we just have to take it serious. It’s all about mentality,” Pavlica said. “I think we match up perfectly with Centennial.

“We just need to focus. We’re ready.”

Contact Justin Emerson at jemerson@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2944. Follow @J15Emerson on Twitter.

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