The long eight-hour, 440-mile drive between Las Vegas and Reno has to qualify as one of the most boring and unpleasant known to man.
It’s miles of baron desert broken up by decaying small towns, tumbleweeds, tons of speedtraps and a few trailers that also serve as houses of ill repute. It’s Primm to Barstow x 4.
But it’s a drive that Bishop Gorman basketball coach Grant Rice is looking forward to making after his Gaels won the Sunset Region title with a convincing 78-52 victory over Centennial on Friday night to qualify for the NIAA State Division I championship playoffs that begin Thursday at the Lawlor Events Center on the UNR campus.
“We’re excited to get on the bus on Wednesday and get up to Reno,” Rice said. “That was our goal at the start of the year, to get to Reno. And now the goal is to win two more games.”
If the Gaels (27-4) do that as expected, they’ll earn their third straight state championship.
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“It’s amazing,” junior center Stephen Zimmerman, who had 17 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists, said of advancing to the state tourney. “It’s the third time for me and hopefully not the last, and I’m really excited.”
Zimmerman, a consensus Top-5 recruit for the Class of 2015, played what Rice called “his most complete game” of the season but was hardly a one-man show.
Junior forward Chase Jeter, another elite blue chipper for the Class of 2015, once again was unstoppable around the basket, scoring a team-high 20 points that included four dunks and grabbing five rebounds while junior forward Nick Blair added 17 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
Rice also was pleased with the unselfish play of guards Noah Robotham, Obim Okeke and Richie Thornton who wisely took advantage of Gorman’s superior height inside with the 7-foot Zimmerman and the 6-10 Jeter dominating from the first tip.
The Gaels bolted to a 15-4 lead in the first seven minutes en route to a 31-22 halftime advantage. But any chance of the Bulldogs (25-4) pulling off the upset was pretty much squashed by a 15-3 run by Gorman to start the second half that boosted its lead to 21 points, 46-25.
Freshman guard sensation Troy Brown scored a game-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds and three blocks to lead Centennial, which connected on just 4-of-21 3-point attempts and appeared to be tired playing its third game in three nights.
Bishop Gorman will play the winner of Saturday’s North Regional title game between Reno High and Spanish Springs in the state semis on Thursday night at 8 p.m. The championship game is set for Friday night at 8 p.m.