Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018 | 9:52 p.m.
In what could be an early game of the year candidate — as early as possible, actually — Bishop Gorman opened its 2018-19 season by holding off a spirited challenge from visiting Coronado, pulling away for an 88-75 victory on Thursday.
The stage couldn’t have been bigger for two of Nevada’s premier programs, as ESPNU was on the scene to broadcast the game and the stands were packed with local basketball royalty (more than half of the UNLV basketball team was on hand to watch, as were Clark senior Jalen Hill and Liberty junior Julian Strawther). And for 32 minutes, both teams’ star players came up big.
Junior big man Isaiah Cottrell totaled 22 points to lead Gorman, and junior guard Noah Taitz backed him up with 15 points. That was just enough to overcome a strong all-around performance from Coronado sophomore Jaden Hardy, who posted 16 points and seven assists.
Coronado led by as many as three points in the third quarter, but Bishop Gorman methodically pulled away over the final 10 minutes, ending the game on a 24-11 run.
Taitz made several big plays down the stretch and said he was pleased with the way his team responded to such a robust opening-night challenge.
“[Coronado] came out and competed the whole game, nothing but respect to them,” Taitz said. “They’ve got a couple great players and they’re a very good team, so I’m happy with the outcome tonight.”
Hardy took control of the game in the first half with his ability to get in the lane and dish to open teammates. He assisted on seven straight Coronado baskets at one point, helping the Cougars stay within 44-42 at the break.
Gorman turned to Cottrell in the second half, throwing it to him in the low post on just about every possession, and Cottrell responded by scoring 21 of his 22 points in the final 16 minutes.
Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice said there was a concerted effort to ride Cottrell on the offensive end.
“Isaiah got in foul trouble in the first half, so he wasn’t really a factor,” Rice said, “but at halftime we talked about getting the ball to Isaiah inside. We thought they might double Isaiah — didn’t look like they ever doubled it because we had a guy cutting, so Isaiah was able to take advantage of that.”
A pull-up 3-pointer from Hardy gave Coronado a 53-50 lead midway through the third quarter, and a putback by center Tyrelle Hunt gave the Cougars a 60-57 lead later in the period. But back-to-back buckets from Cottrell put Bishop Gorman back in front, and the Gaels extended their advantage to 70-64 heading into the fourth quarter.
Gorman led 74-73 with five minutes to play when Will McClendon hit a 3-pointer to provide some breathing room. On Coronado’s next possession, Taitz jumped the passing lane for a steal and went the other way for a breakaway attempt. A Coronado defender chased him down and fouled him in the process, but Taitz spun in a ridiculous circus shot and made the ensuing free throw to make it 80-73, which pretty much sealed the game.
Rice said he expects to see Coronado again in the playoffs as the Gaels pursue their eighth consecutive state championship, and after Thursday night’s showcase, both teams figure to be battle tested.
“I thought under the circumstances — first game of the season for both teams, ESPN for the first time with two Nevada teams — I thought all the players did a really good job,” Rice said. “I’m sure guys had a little bit of nerves going in, but I think once they got on the court it was pretty natural.”