Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 | 8 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer glance over both the Sunrise and Sunset regional playoff brackets. Will there be any surprises or teams other than Bishop Gorman, Canyon Springs and Foothill representing Southern Nevada next week in Reno?
Durango’s bleachers full of fans went from Mardi Gras-party lively to funeral-service quiet in the span of 20 minutes Thursday evening.
The two-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman basketball team can have that effect when it finds it groove. The Gaels gave the Trailblazers hope throughout the first half of the teams’ Sunset Regional semifinal game only to parade all over it after halftime.
Southwest League champions Gorman broke loose in the third quarter to march past Durango, the Northwest’s No. 2 seed, 74-46 in a game where the Gaels wore their home jerseys but played in their opponent’s gym.
“Our coaches came in the locker room and told us we had to lock down on defense,” senior guard Noah Robotham said. “Our defense makes our offense. Once our defense is going, we get out on the break and that’s where we really mesh as a team. Everything goes well from there.”
Transition was where the Gaels began showcasing their talent during a 21-2 run to open the second half. Junior forward Nick Blair, who had a game-high 18 points, skied from outside the paint for a one-handed dunk in the middle of the onslaught.
Less than 30 seconds later, blue chip junior big man Chase Jeter — who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds — slammed down a lob pass. Robotham, as is his wont, was on the delivery end.
Robotham sparked the whole eruption. He pushed the pace in the first possession after halftime to score an easy layup and had a steal-assist combination a minute later.
Robotham had seven of his 14 points, four of his five assists and three of his four steals in the decisive third quarter.
“He’s our leader — four-year varsity guy, captain who is starting to get the respect he deserves,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “Noah was big and Obim Okeke has really stepped us as his sidekick this year.”
The best contributions from Robotham and Okeke came on defense Thursday. They joined forces to completely shut down the city’s leading scorer, Durango senior Darryl Gaynor.
Gorman mixed in some zone defense in the second half, but Okeke and Robotham more than held their own in man-to-man during the first. Gaynor missed all but one of his first 16 shots, finishing 2-for-18 from the floor with nine points, and never found any space.
“Coach talked before the game that we had to stay solid on defense against him,” Robotham said. “He’s a great player that’s going to score but you’ve got to make it tough on him.”
Durango managed its superstar’s off night well to start. Victor Ross, Vee Price and Alex Arias scored 22 of the team’s 25 points in the first half.
The trio helped the Trailblazers go on a 9-0 run that had them trailing just 24-23 with four minutes to go before halftime. They frustrated Gorman on defense by collapsing multiple players every time junior Stephen Zimmerman — who had nine points and 10 rebounds — caught the ball in the post.
The Gaels began taking most of their shots outside of the paint.
“In the first half, we settled for a lot of jump shots,” Rice said. “Our goal is to work inside-out. That’s really what we stress.”
And it’s what they got back to in the second half. The somewhat rough start against Durango marked the second straight night Gorman didn’t perform its sharpest to start a game. Sierra Vista led Gorman after the first quarter Wednesday night in the playoff opener.
The Gaels will look to correct the problem in Friday night’s Sunset Regional finals against the winner of Arbor View vs. Centennial.
“We just need to realize we have a target on our back,” Robotham said. “We need to realize no one is going to kneel or bow down to us, and, from the beginning of games, they are going to jump on us.”