Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 | 11 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?
Bishop Gorman spent so much time inside the paint Friday night that it’s a wonder its players didn’t turn dizzy from the fumes.
The only thing spinning forcefully out of the Durango High gym during the Sunset Regional finals was Centennial’s season. The Gaels tore apart the Bulldogs from the inside, scoring nearly 80 percent of their points within the 12 feet between the free-throw line and the basket in a 78-52 victory.
“Our guards were unselfish tonight,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “Obim Okeke, Richie Thornton and those guys really focused on not worrying about themselves but getting it into the big guys because they knew that was our advantage.”
Gorman’s three towers of terror may have posted their best collective effort of the season to deliver the team its sixth straight regional title.
Stephen Zimmerman got the Gaels headed in the right direction, scoring the bulk of his 17 points early in the game. Chase Jeter closed it out, padding his point total to 20 with a late outburst. Nick Blair stayed steady throughout, picking his spots to chip in 17 points.
“We went out there and played as a unit tonight,” Jeter said. “It really showed.”
Jeter scored Gorman’s first four points to open the game, and it never gave up the lead from there. Centennial hung tough for the first half, however, with heroics from Troy Brown.
Brown, one of the best freshmen in the country, had a game-high 21 points to go with eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Nine of his points came from foul shooting, but he also got into a rhythm attacking the rim in the second quarter.
There were signs his penetrating efficiency couldn’t last, though. Zimmerman specifically appeared to contest every shot in the paint and/or gather every rebound after a miss.
The highly touted class of 2015 recruit finished with a stat line that had Rice salivating. In addition to his points, Zimmerman had 13 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.
“I thought that was his most complete game tonight,” Rice said of Zimmerman. “He was everywhere.”
Gorman had a relatively narrow 31-22 lead at halftime but, for the second straight night, came out of the locker room blazing. The Gaels went on a 15-3 run to start the second half and all but incinerate the Bulldogs’ chance for a comeback.
Zimmerman showed off an underappreciated aspect of his game during the stretch as he zipped two passes down to Jeter for easy scores.
“Me and Zimm work that high-low,” Jeter said. “We’re unselfish guys on an unselfish team.”
Jeter, Zimmerman and Blair each had one big moment apiece during another Gorman run in the fourth quarter before getting pulled at the end of the game. Blair had the crowd off their feet from a vicious dunk on the other end when Zimmerman rejected a shot for one of the nastiest blocks of the Sunset tournament.
Jeter started it all with the night’s top play, a transition slam from a lob pass that he had to catch up to from behind.
“I saw Obim get the ball, and I kind of pointed up,” Jeter reminisced. “It’s team chemistry: He put the ball up, and I had to throw it down.”
The Gaels are hoping that team chemistry leads them to their third straight state championship and fifth in the last six years. They’ll face the winner of Saturday’s North Regional title game between Reno High and Spanish Springs at 8 Thursday night in Reno. Canyon Springs gets the loser in the first state semifinal.
With the Gaels’ big men, they’ll be big favorites against anyone.
“We’re excited to get on that bus Wednesday and get up to Reno,” Rice said.