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Gorman girls earn shot at ending Centennial’s 8-year title run — PHOTOS

Updated February 23, 2024 - 12:46 am

Bishop Gorman girls basketball coach Sheryl Krmpotich felt she had a solid game plan heading into Thursday’s Class 5A state semifinal, but she knew a victory would require a high level of execution.

Aaliyah Spaight was on a mission to make sure that happened.

The sophomore guard had 25 points, nine rebounds and three steals to lead the second-seeded Gaels to a 66-44 victory over No. 3 Democracy Prep at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Bishop Gorman (23-4) will face top-seeded and eight-time defending state champion Centennial, a 69-34 winner over Shadow Ridge, for the title at 5 p.m. Friday.

“What’s great about Aaliyah is that she can score at will,” Krmpotich said. “But she’s also one of the most unselfish players you’ll ever see. She’s one of the top 100 players in the country, and she proved that tonight.”

Knowing both teams liked to run, Krmpotich sent her players onto the court looking to control pace.

“Every team has their (scoring) runs,” she said. “We just decided we needed to have more runs than them, so we took some chances.”

The score remained close throughout the first two quarters, but Gorman owned a slim 32-29 lead at the half thanks to a three-point play by Kenzee Holton with 15 seconds remaining.

The first big run Krmpotich had planned began early in the third quarter when the Blue Knights (18-7) missed a flurry of 3-pointers and Gorman claimed most of the rebounds. A 16-5 Gaels run was capped by Spaight’s 3-pointer from the top of the key and resulted in a 51-39 lead heading into the fourth.

The entire fourth quarter was another scoring spurt for Gorman, which held Democracy Prep to five points and cruised down the stretch.

It was the 500th career win for Krmpotich, who downplayed the milestone.

“I definitely didn’t want to (end the season) at 499,” she said. “But this started in 1998. All the kids who have played for me, that’s their record.”

Holton, who paced Gorman through much of the second half, finished with 19 points, four rebounds and four steals. Teammate Savannah Searcy added nine points.

Bray’ana Miles had 13 points, four rebounds and three steals to lead the Blue Knights. Teammate Aryana Edwards hit three 3-pointers to finish with nine points.

Centennial rolls

In the first game, Centennial’s Nation Williams is just a freshman, but that didn’t keep her from taking control when her veteran teammates were struggling.

She finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds to propel the Bulldogs (19-5) past Shadow Ridge (17-7).

“We know (Williams) is going to be double- and triple-teamed,” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “We know if she can score, she’s going to score.”

The Bulldogs came out flat to start the first quarter, a fact Weitz attributed to sloppy play by her three upperclassmen in the lineup.

“We had too many turnovers to start the game,” she said. “We really didn’t expect that. It was unacceptable.”

But with Williams controlling the boards, Centennial managed to build a 16-8 lead by the end of the quarter.

Any doubt about the game’s outcome was put to rest when the Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run midway through the second quarter that Trysta Barrett capped with a layup to extend the lead to 33-15. Centennial led 40-17 at halftime.

Centennial’s 26-9 first-half rebounding edge played an important role in the momentum switch. Weitz said the Bulldogs planned to make the most of their significant height advantage.

“We worked on that in practice,” she said. “We know if we’re going to take a lot of shots, we’re going to miss some. That’s OK if you’ve got people rebounding.”

The third quarter was more of the same for Centennial, which built a 57-26 lead, allowing Weitz to make extensive use of her bench in the fourth.

Danae Powell added 15 points and four steals for the Bulldogs, and Bella Crawford finished with 11 points and three steals.

Jaslyn Jefferson led the Mustangs with 10 points and seven rebounds, and Jasmine Mata and Jasmyne Sanders added six points apiece.

Contact Jeff Wollard at jwollard@reviewjournal.com.

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