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Saturday, April 21 Sports

Fairfield Prep vs. Central: The keys to victory

No. 1 Fairfield Prep (27-0) faces No. 2 Central (26-1) in the LL state boys basketball final on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville. Here are three keys to victory for both teams:

Prep's 3 keys

SLOW DOWN ANCRUM: Point guard Tyler Ancrum is the sparkplug of Central's electric, up-tempo offense. The speedy senior is lethal in the open court and has delivered some of his biggest moments in the postseason. He's earned MVP honors the last two years in the FCIAC tournament. Ancrum thrives on slashing to the basket, but his outside shot is consistent enough that defenders can't sit back on their heels. He's a pretty good passer, too. "I'm always expecting the quick passes when I'm driving down the lane," forward Marcus Blackwell said. If an opponent's hoping to slow down the high-scoring Hilltoppers -- they're averaging 85 points in the state tournament -- containing Ancrum is a must.

WIN THE 3-POINT EDGE: The Hilltoppers are as capable as anyone of winning a shootout. Their range causes matchup problems for opponents, as nearly everyone in their rotation can knock down a 3-pointer. They've hit 25 treys in their four state tournament wins, a leading 11 of which have come from Sha'Quan Bretoux. Prep has an array of long-range threats, too, including Thomas Nolan, Ryan Foley and Dave Zielinski. The Jesuits hit six treys in their semifinal victory over Greenwich. If either team heats up from the perimeter, watch out.

FOCUS ON THE PRESENT: Being undefeated can weigh on a team. The Jesuits have remained perfect longer than anyone else, and they've stayed calm and focused along the way. Will the pressure affect them? It hasn't so far.

Central's 3 keys

GET CHUKWU IN FOUL TROUBLE: It's no secret that it's easier for opponents to attack the basket when Prep center Paschal Chukwu is on the bench. The 7-foot-2 senior is long and athletic enough to disrupt shots from anywhere inside the perimeter. Even when the Providence College-bound Chukwu doesn't score, he's a game-changer on the court with his defense. "He's changing decisions on the court that we make, whether we're going to take it to the basket or pass," Greenwich guard CJ Byrd said Wednesday following Prep's 59-41 win in the LL semifinals. "He's a big influence on winning the game." Chukwu's managed to stay on the court in the state tournament, and he's enjoyed some of his best games as well. He posted a triple-double (24 points, 14 rebounds, 11 blocks) in a second-round win over East Hartford.

HALT THE BIG RUN: The Jesuits are capable of changing a game in a hurry with a collection of scorers. When they have, their opponents haven't recovered. In an SCC semifinal win over Wilbur Cross -- a four-point win in which Chukwu fouled out with five minutes left -- Nolan scored 12 straight points to rally the Jesuits. The Jesuits also hit Hillhouse (17-6) and Greenwich (11-0) with quick spurts in their last two tournament wins.

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START FAST: The only time Central lost this year (78-75 in overtime to Westhill on Jan. 31), it nearly overcame a 16-point deficit. If the Hilltoppers can play at their pace and avoid falling behind early, they'll be in an ideal spot late.