The Gretna Dragons snapped Omaha Westside’s 20-game winning streak on Thursday, taking down the top-ranked Warriors 51-45 with a terrific defensive effort.
Gretna now has wins over Omaha Creighton Prep, Bellevue West, Omaha Central and Westside, all teams ranked in the top five of the NEBPreps.com coaches poll when the Dragons faced them.
Here are five thoughts on the game (plus a bonus thought).
Let the Big Fella Eat
Senior big man Grant Jansen led the way for the Dragons on Thursday with 16 points, and he did it in an incredibly efficient fashion, shooting 7-of-9 from the field. Early on, Jansen was the beneficiary of some terrific playmaking by his guards as all he had to do was wait under the basket for the pass and finish.
In the third quarter, however, Jansen had a couple of impressive and important self-created buckets in the post and he also had a nice dish to a teammate for a key three-point play with 3:29 remaining after Westside had pulled within two. Then after missing both his free throw attempts in the first half, he stepped to the line and sank two shots in the bonus with 55.9 to play to push Gretna’s lead back to seven.
The game was Jansen’s ninth double-digit scoring performance of the season and was just a bucket shy of his career high of 18. He also pulled down eight rebounds including three on the offensive end. Jansen is a strong, physical player and when the Dragons can keep him involved it provides balance for an otherwise perimeter-oriented team.
Thursday’s game was a showdown between two terrific defensive teams.
The Warriors can pressure the ball one through five like few others and Gretna’s guards were under intense pressure all night long. Westside forced 12 turnovers and held the Dragons under 50% inside the arc with their fullcourt pressure and halfcourt man-to-man.
The Dragons shoot just over 35% from 3 on 15.9 attempts per game this season with stellar sophomore guards Landon Pokorski and Alex Wilcoxson shooting 41% and 46%, respectively, on a combined 10.2 attempts per game. Gretna had a tough time finding space for open jumpers on Thursday, however, attempting just five 3s all night. The one time when Westside slipped Gretna knocked down back-to-back 3s to stretch out its lead to 10 (the only two 3s Gretna made all night).
Gretna, on the other hand, spent all night alternating between an aggressive 2-3 featuring one of the guards extending up to to apply some ball pressure and a 1-3-1 featuring long and lanky 6-foot-5 junior Jeff Rozelle at the top.
Gretna’s zones made it difficult for Westside to get quality looks around the basket (they finished 9-of-21 from 2) and the Warriors settled for a lot of 3s — 31, to be exact. They only hit seven of them for a 22.6% clip.
After Gretna built up that 10-point lead in the third, Westside rallied to make it a four-point lead after three. A couple of early buckets in the fourth made it a two-point game. Then Gretna locked up, holding Westside scoreless for nearly six minutes, and the Warriors got no closer than four points down the stretch. Gretna held Westside to 4-of-16 shooting with three turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Westside was without a key piece on Thursday as starting point guard Chandler Meeks missed the game with an illness. The senior averages 9.9 points, a team-best 3.1 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals and would have provided another option to get into the paint and create looks for himself and others.
The Warriors normally have as strong of a nine-deep rotation as anyone, but with Meeks unavailable and with sophomore Caleb Benning taking a hard fall in the second quarter that led to him sitting the rest of the game, Westside was a little short-handed. CJ Mitchell started in Meek’s place and had a rough shooting game while the Warriors got just two points from their bench.
The Warriors had a rough go on the offensive end on Thursday night, shooting 30.8% from the field as a group. The one exception was junior wing Tate Odvody, who led the Warriors in scoring for the 14th time this season.
Odvody finished with a game-high 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting and 2-of-3 from the free-throw line. He scored six of Westside’s nine 2-pointers, showing off his strength around the rim and his instincts as a cutter. He also knocked down a 3-pointer, part of a seven-point second quarter that helped the Warriors cut a 14-6 first-quarter deficit down to two at halftime.
In addition to scoring, Odvody also stuffed the stat sheet with 11 rebounds (three offensive), two assists, two steals and a block.
Bright Future for Both Squads
Jansen led the way for the Dragons on Thursday, but he was the only senior in the starting lineup. Pokorski and Wilcoxson start in the backcourt with another sophomore in Alec Wilkins on the wing, and Rozelle still has another year as well.
Pokorski is one of the best players in his class, averaging close to 18 points, four boards and four assists. He had a rough shooting night on Thursday but still finished with 11 points including an important and-one plus a pair of bonus free throws in the fourth. He also dished out five assists.
Wilcoxson is the team’s second-leading scorer at nearly 14 points per game and he’s one of the best 3-point shooters in the state at 46.4% on 5.6 attempts per game. The Warriors limited him to just two 3-point attempts on Thursday, but he hit one of them and finished with nine points.
Wilkins scored eight of his 10 points in the second half, shooting 4-of-6 overall and accounting for Gretna’s other made 3-pointer. He also pitched in five boards and a couple of assists. Gretna also has four other sophomores on its varsity roster.
As for the Warriors, in addition to a junior in Odvody, Westside has three terrific sophomores in Mitchell, Benning and Kevin Stubblefield in addition to a young but talented JV team. Westside will graduate six seniors including four starters, but with the amount of young talent in the program they should be just fine moving forward.
BONUS: Great Atmosphere at Gretna
I walked in to the gym about 25 minutes before tipoff and had a tough time finding a seat. It felt like the entire town of Gretna was present for the game in addition to a strong crowd from Westside.
Thursday was a big game not just because it featured two top-five teams, but because the two schools had some recent history after facing off for the football state championship and subsequent ruling from the NSAA stripping the Dragons of the title. That being said, the two student sections were on their best behavior (although there was one clever cheer from the Westside students at one point) and provided a terrific atmosphere. It was loud and raucous throughout, though the loudest cheers of the night might have come during halftime when Gretna put on a fire halftime show (literally).
Fire halftime performance. pic.twitter.com/FayFxyJghl
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) February 18, 2022
One cool touch was the team and a number of Westside students wearing “Warriors #ForFeek” T-shirts in support of Gretna’s head coach, Brad Feeken, who is fighting a rare form of cancer but continues to patrol the sideline as he goes through his treatments. Gretna has been using the “For Feek” rallying cry all season, and the head coach has received plenty of support from opponents as well as others in the community, including Omaha head coach Derrin Hansen who wore a For Feek T-shirt for the Mavericks’ Coach vs. Cancer game against Oral Roberts last month.
Gretna’s 15-6 record with one game to go in the regular season despite Feeken’s off-the-court battle is a testament both to his strength and to the strength of the bond he has established with his team.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.