TAMPA — Wharton was too quick on defense and too aggressive in the passing lanes, but by the time Sarasota Riverview was able to figure that out, it was too late for the Rams.
Behind a bushel of early steals, the Wildcats jumped out to a huge early lead and coasted the rest of the way in a 68-50 win over Riverview in a Class 6A region quarterfinal.
The victory, the Wildcats' 25th in a row, sets up a rematch with St. Petersburg in Tuesday's semifinals. Wharton beat the Green Devils 56-51 on Dec. 22.
Against Riverview, the Wildcats (27-1) streaked out to a 26-5 lead after Damian Dixon's 3-pointer midway through the second quarter.
They got sloppy, however, and Riverview was able to shoot itself back into the game, closing the half with a 16-3 run.
Xavier Owens said that earned his team a talking to from coach Tommy Tonelli.
"It was … loud," he said, smiling. "He told us we got a little crazy and hectic out there and if we wanted to win we needed to go out and show up."
Owens scored seven points in the third quarter for Wharton, which saw its lead shrink to 40-34 before scoring 14 straight points to put the game away.
Freshman point guard C.J. McGill led Wharton with 20 points. Owens scored 14 of his 18 in the second half, Dixon had 17 and A.J. Astroth added 11 for the Wildcats, as the foursome scored 66 of the team's 68 points.