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‘We’re having fun’: Gorman powers into 5A state semis — PHOTOS

Having a strong ballhandler capable of controlling the tempo and getting teammates involved can key any team’s postseason run.

Bishop Gorman’s boys basketball team showed what it’s like to have two such guards Friday night.

Nick Jefferson and Ryder Elisaldez combined for 15 assists, and the Gaels had just 10 turnovers on the way to a 74-49 home win over Foothill in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.

“They’ve got a lot of experience, and they actually like each other,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “Imagine that. They like each other. Our team likes each other, they play for each other, and we’re having fun.”

The Gaels (22-5) will play Liberty in the state semifinals at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center

Jefferson and Elisaldez pushed the pace when possible, and they were often able to get into the lane and find an open teammate when the Gaels were forced into a halfcourt game.

“I think that’s been our focus all year is getting out in transition,” said Elisaldez, who had 11 points, four rebounds and eight assists. “We feel like that’s where we’re at our best, and it starts at the defensive end. When we get stops and get out in transition, that’s when we’re playing the best basketball.”

While Gorman’s guards were often able to help the Gaels get layups and open jumpers, things were far tougher offensively for Foothill (17-10). Leading scorer Zak Abdalla finished with a game-high 21 points, but had to work tirelessly with relentless drives to get his shots.

“Our focus was defense all week in practice,” Rice said. “Foothill does a great job of scoring, shooting the ball, and Zak Abdalla, he’s great at getting to the basket. So our focus was defense, but I think our defensive intensity led to some of our offense.”

Gorman held Abdalla without a field goal and limited him to one point in the first half as the Gaels took a 30-17 lead at the break.

Abdalla got things going in the third quarter, and the Falcons twice trimmed the lead to single digits. But each time, Gorman responded. After Foothill cut the lead to 38-29 on a pair of free throws by Corbin Putnam, Gorman freshman Kameron Cooper hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 3:45 to go in the third quarter to start an 8-2 run, and the Falcons never really threatened again.

Cooper finished with 12 points and five rebounds and was 2-for-3 on 3-pointers for the Gaels, who were 9-for-17 from 3-point range.

“We hit a couple big 3s,” Rice said. “Freshman Kam Cooper came in and hit a couple bit 3s, and Ilan Nikolov, another freshman, hit two big 3s.”

Fellow freshman Ty Johnson also played key minutes, spelling the team’s more experienced guards and helping Gorman continue to push the pace.

“Our three freshmen, they’ve been big for us all year,” Elisaldez said. “They jut play confident, and now that they have this whole season under their belt, they’re ready to help us in the playoffs.”

Jett Washington had 12 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots for the Gaels.

Jefferson had eight points, five rebounds and seven assists, and Noah Westbook scored nine for Gorman.

“Completely a group effort,” Rice said. “Jett Washington had 10 rebounds, and Nick Jefferson and Ryder Elisaldez kind of controlled the tempo on offense. So I was really happy with it.”

Chris Natale had nine points and five rebounds for the Falcons.

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