STOCKTON — Scott Livesay took the pass and set himself at the top of the key, just beyond the 3-point line. After Sheldon's Darius Nelson flew by, Livesay let fly.
Nothing but net, giving the Cougars a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Golden Valley point guard John Sykes scored 26 points and his team made seven 3-pointers — all of which seemed to come at key moments — as the No. 3-seed Cougars held off the No. 6 Timberwolves 69-65 in their Sac-Joaquin Section Division I quarterfinal at the University of the Pacific's Spanos Center on Tuesday night.
Golden Valley (25-4) plays No. 7 Franklin of Elk Grove in a semifinal Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Arco Arena.
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"We're at a very good point, basketball-wise," Golden Valley coach Keith Hunter said. "We're playing basketball, having fun. I think we're playing at our best."
Tuesday's game was a matchup of stars — Sheldon's Nelson and Golden Valley's Sykes — and it was also a matchup of contrasting styles. While the taller Timberwolves tried to pound the ball inside, the Cougars countered by playing frenetic defense and making big shots from a distance.
With a couple minutes left, it looked as though Sheldon would escape with the victory.
It led 61-57 — a Tramaine Moore layup with 2:20 left gave the Timberwolves that lead — but Sykes followed with an inside shot on GV's next possession and Livesay followed that with his clutch 3-pointer with 1:25 left.
After that, Sheldon was forced to foul and the Cougars pulled away.
"It was one of those games where we just survived," Hunter said.
But they did survive, and they're going on to Arco.
"We're having fun; we've all got smiles out there," Sykes said. "I think we're on the top of our game right now."
MERCED 76, BURBANK 72 — Bob Thomason waited outside the Merced locker room, a sly smile across his face.
The Pacific men's basketball coach was so excited, so happy for his prized recruit that he had to congratulate him. In person. With a hug.
"You don't know how special that was for me," Merced senior Allen Huddleston said. "This is my future home. This is where I'm going to spend the next four years. I'm just glad we could get the win."
Huddleston dazzled a mixed playoff crowd at the Spanos Center, scoring a game-high 37 points in the Bears' victory over the Titans in the quarterfinal round of the Division I playoffs.
Brian Cooksey scored 12 points in the fourth quarter, finishing a rebound shy of a double-double, as Merced clinched its first appearance at Arco Arena in 12 years.
"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't any feelings of relief," Merced coach Marcus Knott said. "Our kids showed the determination and drive and competitive nature they've got."
The Merced Sun-Star's James Burns contributed to this report.