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‘Four best teams’ vying for 5A boys basketball state title

Picking a favorite to win the Class 5A boys basketball state championship before the start of the season would have been difficult.

Coronado, Liberty, Bishop Gorman and Arbor View all could have made a valid case to be the favorite.

Then all four teams finished tied for first in the 5A Southern League.

“I think that it was pretty clear that these were the four best teams, and all of them proved it,” Coronado coach Jeff Kaufman said. “It makes it fun. It makes it competitive.”

Now those four teams are the last ones standing in the 5A state semifinals Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

No. 1 Coronado (17-11) faces No. 4 Arbor View (19-7) at 4:40 p.m., and No. 2 Liberty (19-3) takes on No. 3 Bishop Gorman (22-5) at 8 p.m. The state title game is at 7 p.m. Friday.

“I don’t think of any of the four teams that are left there’s a clear-cut favorite,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said.

Coronado earned the No. 1 seed in the playoffs on a tiebreaker, and the Cougars defeated Liberty and Gorman in the regular season. Kaufman said he believes his starting lineup is the best in the state.

But the Cougars lost their regular-season finale to Arbor View 68-63 on Feb. 8 after having more than a week off before the game. Kaufman said he’s kept the intensity high at practice with five days off before the semifinals.

“Our preparation — we have not been taking it easy,” Kaufman said. “We have been going out and running. We’ve been getting up and down, we got on the track. What we have to do is play as hard as we possibly can and let them figure out a way to stop us.”

Arbor View became a state title contender when Pharaoh Compton, a San Diego State commit, transferred back to Las Vegas to join the Aggies for his senior year. He scored 28 points in the Aggies’ win over Coronado.

Aggies coach Dustin Clayton said there were some “rough patches” to get Compton fully implemented in the system, but Clayton said Compton’s leadership and great basketball IQ have helped the team come together.

“We’re in the position we’re at because he’s kind of led us there,” Clayton said. “About this last month, he’s really locked in and focused on each game and putting it upon his shoulders that we aren’t going to lose.”

Liberty and Bishop Gorman will renew their rivalry in the other semifinal.

Gorman returned just two players — guards Nick Jefferson and Ryder Elisaldez — from last year’s team. Rice said the team’s chemistry has strengthened throughout the season and has helped the Gaels be in a position to win their first state title since 2020.

“Coming into the year with a new, young team and not really knowing what to expect, we’re excited. … You can have a talented team, and if they don’t get along or are just there for themselves, that doesn’t work,” Rice said.

Liberty has played in the past two 5A title games. The Patriots defeated Gorman in overtime in 2022 and lost to Durango last season. Patriots coach Kevin Soares said his team’s experience of playing in big games has been “huge.”

“We got a lot of guys back that played in (the title game) last year,” Soares said. “I don’t want to say they’ve come to expect it, but they’re comfortable being in this position.”

Soares said his team’s depth and “unselfishness” have helped the Patriots reach their third straight title game.

“On any given night, one of those five to six guys we have in our rotation can lead us in scoring,” Soares said. “It’s almost like pick your poison of who you try to stop.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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