Count Omaha Benson boys basketball coach Donnie Johnson among those eager for Thursday's resumption of the Metro Conference holiday tournament at the venerable Civic Auditorium.
“I told the kids I really want to go play at the Civic,” he said. “I haven't been in there, on the floor, since I was at Creighton.”
After a one-day break, the four semifinal games — first girls, then boys — will be played at the Civic. The Bellevue East girls will play Millard West at 2:45 p.m., followed by Bellevue West against Benson at 4:30.
The boys' semifinal matchups are Benson-Millard South at 6:15 and Omaha South-Omaha Central at 8.
The girls final will be at the Civic at 6 p.m. Friday, followed by the boys final at 8.
Johnson, who played at Creighton from 1997-99, will guide his top-ranked Bunnies against the Patriots — a team that reached the semifinals for the first time since the 2002-03 season. Benson is coming off a 58-55 quarterfinal win over Omaha Burke while Millard South defeated Omaha Westside 56-49.
The Bunnies had no trouble against the Patriots earlier this season, posting an 81-48 home win.
“It's great to be there,” Millard South coach Tyler Cerveny said. “We have to start better this time. They shot 90 percent in the first quarter.”
South and Central are meeting for the third year in a row at Metro, but the first two were for the Metro title that Central won. The teams haven't met this year.
“We have to play a complete game,” South coach Bruce Chubick said. “We'll have to play better on offense, but you'll struggle anytime with 19 points out of your lineup.”
Chubick was referring to 6-4 senior forward James Dumes, who did not dress for Tuesday's 48-46 win over Omaha Creighton Prep after missing a practice earlier in the day. Chubick said Dumes will play against Central.
The Eagles reached the semifinals for the fifth consecutive year after defeating Millard North 63-48 on Tuesday.
The newcomer to the girls semifinals is Benson, which hasn't reached that goal in several years. The Bunnies boosted their record to 7-0 on Tuesday with a 57-35 quarterfinal win over Millard North.
“I think you have to go back to the late '80s since we've made it this far,” Benson girls coach Jon Perone said. “Reaching state last year gave our girls a taste of playing in a big arena like that, and I know we'll be ready to play Thursday.”
The fourth-ranked Bunnies will need to be ready against top-ranked Bellevue West, the defending Metro tourney girls champion. The Thunderbirds (7-1) are coming off a 63-51 win over Omaha Northwest.
“Playing at the Civic last year should help,” Bellevue West coach Marc Kruger said. “We played well in those two games.”
No girls team could be hungrier for the Metro title than Millard West, which has never won the title but finished as the runner-up four times. That includes last year, when the Wildcats lost to Bellevue West 67-53 in the final.
“It would be great if we could win this title,” Millard West coach Kip Colony said. “It's one goal that we haven't been able to attain.”
The second-ranked Wildcats rolled to a 58-34 win over Papillion-La Vista in Tuesday's first quarterfinal. They will play seventh-ranked Bellevue East, which is coming off a 71-68 win over Central.
“Millard West is very well coached and they rotate 10 kids in and out,” first-year Chieftains coach Blake Anderson said. “They're tall and athletic, but we need to concentrate on playing our style.”
The top three boys seeds and the top four girls seeds all reached the semifinals. Millard South entered the 16-team boys tourney seeded 13th, but advanced after posting upset wins over fourth-seeded Bellevue West and fifth-seeded Westside.