Gorman boys aim to end South’s three-year state drought

After a long stretch of dominance by Southern Nevada schools in the large-school boys state tournament, there has been a drought.

Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice believes it’s time for that to end.

Rice’s Gaels will be among three local teams vying to end Northern Nevada’s three-year winning streak in the Class 4A state tournament.

“It should be motivation for all the South teams this year,” Rice said. “We want to try to bring that back down to the South.”

Sunset Region champion Gorman (26-5) plays Northern champ Hug (19-9) at 8 p.m. today at the Orleans Arena. Sunrise champ Eldorado (23-8) plays Sunset runner-up Palo Verde (23-5) in the other semifinal at 4:40 p.m.

Gorman could guarantee a Southern Nevada title winner by knocking off Hug. But Rice said that won’t be an easy task. Sparked by senior guard Duke Williams, who hit a pair of game-winning shots in the Northern Regional, the Hawks have won six straight games.

Hug beat Reno 49-47 in the Northern Region title game. Reno had won two of the last three state titles.

“They’re a really athletic team,” Rice said. “(Williams) is a senior that’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

Rice said his team flew under the radar for most of the season while teams focused on Sunset Region favorites Cheyenne and Palo Verde.

“We kind of used that for motivation,” Rice said. “We had some early-season losses and frankly didn’t deserve to be looked at until the mid- or late part of the year.

“We really were kind of an average team at the beginning of the season and just steadily improved along the way.”

Another steadily improving team has been Eldorado, which has won seven consecutive games on the court. The Sundevils did have to forfeit one of those victories for using an ineligible player.

“It’s everything we worked hard for,” Eldorado coach Michael Uzan said of making state. “It’s like a dream for a lot of these guys. We’ve been criticized and doubted, and these kids have gotten themselves in this position.”

Uzan has a personal stake in seeing Eldorado succeed. He’s a 1994 graduate of the school, and the last time the Sundevils made the state tournament was his sophomore year.

“No one wants to be part of the old schools,” Uzan said. “Being alumni there myself and having a lot of friends who are alumni, it’s good to see that school be back on top again.”

Uzan, in his second season as head coach, credited former coach Phil Olsen for getting the team moving in the right direction. Uzan was an assistant under Olsen for seven seasons.

“He’s a big part of why we’re where we’re at,” Uzan said. “He helped lay the groundwork down. I was with him through those four- and five-win seasons. And now we’re in a position where we’re shooting for the state title.”

It’s a situation that Palo Verde expected to be in but one that is just setting in with the players.

“It’s starting to hit them that they’re one game away from competing in the championship and two games away from winning the entire thing,” first-year Palo Verde coach Jermone Riley said. “We talked about that (Tuesday) at practice, and there were a lot of smiles.”

Palo Verde bounced back from a loss to Gorman in the Sunset championship game by beating Liberty 68-63 Monday to earn the final berth at state.

“We didn’t get a six-day break like those other guys, but sometimes that can help,” Riley said.

And being this close to winning a state title should keep all the players focused.

“We’ve had our eye on the prize,” Uzan said. “Now it’s getting closer and closer and making it that much easier to stay goal-oriented.”

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