The annual Big City Showdown is certainly different without Findlay Prep, the Henderson powerhouse prep basketball program that closed last spring after three national championships — and 10 victories against rival Bishop Gorman.
But different isn’t necessarily bad. And Friday night, different was actually quite spectacular.
The Gaels welcomed new rival Coronado to the showcase by overcoming an early double-figure deficit at Cox Pavilion and scoring a 70-62 victory in front of a capacity crowd.
Gorman forward Mwani Wilkinson had 19 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in the ESPNU nationally televised game. Point guard Zaon Collins added 14 points and eight assists.
Cougars five-star junior guard Jaden Hardy, who was averaging about 34 points a game, was held to 11. He scored four in the second half.
“Since Findlay Prep isn’t a team no more, Coronado is the next best,” said Wilkinson, an unsigned four-star senior considering multiple high-major Division I programs. “They have great players, so a lot of people anticipated it to be a really good game. Just like how it was.”
Gorman and Coronado have developed a friendly rivalry in recent years, intensified last season by two close games — one on national TV and the other in the Desert Region tournament. Their coaches are close friends. Their players compete with and against one another in the summer.
But adversarial competition replaced friendship Friday. If only temporarily.
The Cougars sprinted to a 31-19 first-half lead behind a spirited transition offense. Hardy was patient amid traps and double teams, deferring to teammates Tyrelle Hunt, Jaxon Kohler and Max Howard, who attacked gaps and finished around the basket. Hunt scored 15 to lead Coronado.
The Gaels remained composed, though, and rallied by stringing together stops and executing in the halfcourt. A double-digit deficit turned into a 52-50 lead through three quarters.
“It’s been our curse with Gorman, 50-50 balls, offensive rebounds that hurt us, and that’s what happened to us, ” Coronado coach Jeff Kaufman said. “Everything was good, and we’re cruising right along. It was a game of runs, and we told the kids it was going to be a game of runs. Those 50-50 balls hurt us, and Gorman is very good at capitalizing on mistakes.”
The Gaels continued to force the ball out of Hardy’s hands with traps in the backcourt, and the Cougars weren’t as crisp in the second half with their decisions.
Collins, meanwhile, was a maestro with the pace and ensured crisp offensive execution in the fourth quarter.
This probably won’t be the last time the valley’s best teams collide. They could meet in the Desert Region tournament and state tournament.
“Two really good teams and fan bases. The student sections were awesome,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “Today, we were not friends. We will be now, and I’m sure there’s a really good chance we’ll see them again.”