Ray Brewer and Case Keefer look over the high school basketball playoff picture, and debate whether any major upsets will occur and which teams would be most likely to pull them off.
They say shooting is the first thing to go when a team is shaken.
Bishop Gorman must not have been the least bit shaken despite a near-capacity crowd and overwhelming hype Saturday night at Legacy High for the Sunset Regional championship game against Clark. The Gaels busted the Chargers’ zone early, burying their first three three-pointers and seven of their first nine attempts to create a lead they carried throughout in a 57-46 victory.
“We were nervous at first but once you see that first bucket goes in, it breaks the ice,” Gorman sophomore guard Noah Taitz said. “From there, we were fine. We were good to go.”
The highly regarded Taitz had what was probably his best game at Gorman in scoring 27 points and going 9-for-15 from the field. And he had it on the biggest stage.
The victory meant Gorman swept the season series of four games with Clark, which came into the year as the top-ranked team in the state, and won its 10th straight regional title. The Gaels will go for a seventh consecutive state championship next week starting with a semifinal game against Spanish Springs at 8:15 Thursday night in Reno.
“We never gave up a big run tonight,” Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “I think Clark’s biggest run might have been four points, two baskets in a row. That’s really been our issue. We’ve been up 10 or 12 points and then allowed a team to go score three or four buckets in a row, but that didn’t happen tonight.”
It felt like it couldn’t happen with the way Gorman shot. Taitz had already put up 11 points before Gorman’s go-to guy, senior Jamal Bey, broke out to give the Gaels their largest lead.
Bey scored on three straight possessions midway through the second quarter — hitting two threes and also throwing down a dunk after driving from the baseline. The second triple gave Gorman a 28-18 advantage.
The Gaels would never lead by more than that until the end of the game, but were also ahead by at least 4 points throughout. The outburst accounted for most of the production from Bey, who finished with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting and six rebounds but was mostly happy to sit back and let Taitz bask in the spotlight.
“Let him do him,” Bey said. “He’s a scorer, and he can do it pretty easily. If he’s hot like that, I’ll let him go.”
Taitz switched up how he scored in the second half. With Clark adjusting its defense to bear down on him outside, Taitz started to drive and convert on layups.
He also frequently got to the foul line, knocking down five of seven free-throw attempts.
“Once I see a few shots go in, I know the defense is going to start to overplay me so that’s when I know I can get the pump fake and go to the basket,” Taitz said. “That’s when I mix it all in.”
Clark more than held its own with Gorman on the inside overall. The Chargers easily outrebounded the Gaels behind nine boards apiece from Ian Alexander and James Bridges.
They also were able to keep the game close despite not making a single three-pointer by relying on the penetration ability of senior guard Greg Foster, who had a team-high 13 points, and the post moves of Antwon Jackson, who had 11 points and seven rebounds.
“Antwon gave us problems and Foster had a good game but I felt like we limited them,” Rice said.
“We controlled most of the game but could never pull away and that’s because Clark is such a great team and has so many great players.”
Few would have believed that a team as loaded with talent as Clark would go 0-for-4 against an inexperienced Gorman squad at the beginning of the year. But the Gaels’ success is partially a testament to their young players stepping up and producing in big moments.
No one typifies the progress more than Taitz.
“I tried to stay aggressive out there and just make plays,” Taitz said. “Do whatever it takes to win.”