NEW PORT RICHEY — The road map to the region final is neatly tucked away in his brain.
Ask Karim Nohra to describe his master plan for conquering girls basketball and he'll kindly tell you. He makes the triangle-and-2 and his newly installed high-post offense sound simple.
Basically, that's how Wesley Chapel stopped Gulf on its home floor Tuesday with a 29-27 victory in a Class 4A region semifinal.
The win vaults Wesley Chapel to its third consecutive region final, the past two under Nohra. The Wildcats will face undefeated Ocala Vanguard, a 71-66 winner over Leesburg.
"My big concern was every time we've played them we're down 10, 12, 14 points at halftime," Nohra said of Gulf. "I did not want to have to fight back from a deficit."
Gulf led only 9-8 at halftime, which was remarkable considering the Buccaneers withstood a scoring drought of almost 11 minutes. A 3-pointer from Hannah Kotzen sparked a 6-0 run to end the half.
Wesley Chapel senior Shantel Houston, the only Wildcat in school history to reach three region finals, addressed the team at halftime.
"She told the team, 'I don't want this thing to end tonight,' " Nohra said. "She didn't allow it to end tonight."
Wesley Chapel (25-3) was led by freshman Simone Brown with eight points, and Houston finished with seven, all free throws. Gulf (23-6) also got eight points each from Coppin State signee Kianna Mills and Kotzen.
The Wildcats, who lost the Class 4A, District 7 title on this same floor 57-46 on Feb. 6, managed to stall the Buccaneers' high-octane offense.
The key was shadowing Gulf's leading scorer, Nicole Adams. She was held to three points and didn't score her first field goal until there was 46 seconds left in the game. The shot gave her 1,501 points for her career with one season to go.
That was no consolation.
"I had the best player on the North Suncoast just cry on my shoulder for 10 minutes," Gulf coach Mike Quarto said as he began to cry himself. "I'm very lucky to have coached this team and to have coached at this school for this long."
4A: Jefferson rolls
TAMPA — Earlier in the season, Jefferson coach Tom Mosca worried about his team's sputtering starts, wondering if they might catch up with his team come postseason.
But those days seem like so long ago now. His Dragons are wasting little time putting away opponents. They've played by the same script for three weeks now, leaving opponents in the dust, the latest chapter Jefferson's 66-46 Class 4A region quarterfinal win over Lakewood.
Jefferson ran out to an 18-4 first-quarter lead Tuesday, holding Lakewood scoreless through a span of 7:20. The Spartans made just 2-of-12 shots from the field in the opening quarter and committed four turnovers.
"They're focused on what we do early. We're where we need to be," Mosca said. "We're a much more mature team this year. I've looked at film from last year, we were good last year, but we're a better basketball team this year."
The Dragons (27-3) are one win from their first final four in school history.