Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice didn’t want Thursday to be about him.
After all, his team was playing for a regional championship and a berth in the Class 4A state tournament semifinals. But the Gaels fans made sure Rice knew how much he is appreciated with signs that said “Rice 500.”
Gorman caught fire early for 33 first-quarter points and fended off some spirited Durango charges in an 80-61 win that was the 500th in Rice’s career.
“I never really thought about it until it got close and a few people started asking me about it,” Rice said. “It’s a special thing. I’ve been in a great situation for 19 years at Bishop Gorman High School, and we’ve had great players and great assistant coaches.”
Will McClendon made four 3-pointers in the first half on his way to 19 points, and Braden Lamar added 17 for the Gaels (26-3), who will travel to Reno next week with hopes of winning their ninth straight state title.
Zaon Collins had 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Jonathan Braggs added 13 for Gorman, which had its lead cut to as few as five points early in the fourth quarter before pulling away late.
“We had a really good first quarter, and then I think we got comfortable and that’s when the lead started going away,” Lamar said. “But in the fourth quarter, we said we can do better than this. Let’s go out there and put it on them one last time. That’s what carried us over.”
Durango (19-9) will begin its state tournament run at 7:30 p.m. Friday, when it faces Faith Lutheran, the Mountain Region runner-up, in a first-round game at Sierra Vista High School.
The Trailblazers got 19 points from Kendrick Gilbert, 12 from Sebastian Mack and 11 from Keshon Gilbert.
They trailed 61-56 after Keshon Gilbert’s baseline jumper to open the fourth-quarter scoring but managed only five points the rest of the way.
“It’s tough when you get a big lead early,” Rice said. “You can’t just hold the ball in the first half. In the last four minutes of the game, we spread it out and we wanted to take advantage of our guards when we got the lead. But Durango’s been playing really well, they’re confident, they’ve been shooting the ball really well, and you know they’re going to make a run.”
Despite having lost two games all season, Desert Oasis coach Laurie Evans hasn’t always been pleased with the way her team has started games.
She got exactly what she wanted from her Diamondbacks on Thursday, and they rode an energetic start to a 67-55 win over Spring Valley for the Desert Region championship.
“We have yet to start the game off on our tempo, so that was the goal tonight,” Evans said. “From the tipoff, get going and play our game. I was looking for energy. When we have energy on defense, everything works itself out.”
Four players scored in double figures for the Diamondbacks (23-2), led by Olivia Bigger’s 16. Isabella Jaramillo added 13 points, and Elijah Pricebrooks and Desi-Rae Young contributed 12 apiece for Desert Oasis, which celebrated its first region championship on its home court.
The win allows Desert Oasis time off before its semifinal game next week in Reno. Spring Valley will meet Faith Lutheran in a first-round state tournament game at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Sierra Vista High School.
Kiana Turenne led Spring Valley (23-6) with 16 points, and Riahana Davis added 14.
“(The region championship) was super important and means a lot to us,” Evans said. “We’ve got some injuries going on, so beside the fact that you don’t want to play two extra games, we needed that rest. There’s no doubt Spring Valley is going to win its next two games and get to the (semifinals).”