Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Bishop Gorman’s Shabazz Muhammad flew down the court on a fast break and went over a defender for a forceful dunk. Never one to be outdone, Sierra Vista’s Viko Noma’aea took the ensuing inbounds pass, rocketed down the floor and zigzagged his way through the Gorman defense for a how-did-he-do-that layup.
This is what happens when two of the best players on two of the best teams in Las Vegas go up against each other.
“The atmosphere was magnificent,” Muhammad said. “There were a lot of people out there supporting us and supporting Sierra Vista. It took a team effort.”
Muhammad, a junior, scored a season-high 35 points in a variety of ways. He had three dunks, two three-pointers and a handful of midrange jumpers.
But junior forward Ben Carter was just as valuable to the Gaels against the Mountain Lions. Carter scored 20 points, had 14 rebounds and made plays when Gorman needed them the most.
“Ben’s definitely one of the better players in town,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “It’s just about him getting confidence and being aggressive out there. I’m happy for him today.”
Noma’aea’s 24 points weren’t enough for Sierra Vista to pull off an upset against Gorman, one of the elite teams in the country. It looked like a possibility for a while, though.
The Mountain Lions surged back from an early 10-point deficit to take a 31-28 lead in the second quarter. They were aided by timely shooting from Maiscei Grier, who finished with 13 points, and an eight-assist night from Xavier Rogers, who also had 13 points, during the run.
But Muhammad and Carter each had second chance baskets in the next minute to regain the lead for Gaels at halftime.
“We felt the pressure,” Carter said. “We got a little nervous at first, but we kept our cool and were able to pull it off.”
Gorman controlled the boards all night, which proved to be the difference. The Gaels grabbed more than twice as many rebounds as the Mountain Lions.
“They are just huge,” Sierra Vista coach Kent Johnson said. “Everywhere you go, they are monstrous and it’s hard to play against that size advantage for that length of time.”
“I can’t be unhappy with the way our kids played. They fought hard, played hard and did a decent job executing the game plan in the first half.”
Sierra Vista hopes it can learn something from the second half, where Gorman outscored it 45-34, before the two teams meet again in February.
Despite the defeat, Sierra Vista achieved what few Nevada teams have in the past few years by keeping the game competitive. It was only the second regular season game in the last two years against an in-state opponent that Gorman won by less than 20 points.
“We loved the competition,” Carter said. “We didn’t mean to get into a close game, but they are a tough team.”