On Tuesday, Hail Varsity made the trip out to Omaha Westside to experience one of the best rivalries in Nebraska high school basketball: Westside against Omaha Creighton Prep.
The Junior Jays jumped out to an early lead, the Warriors took control in the second quarter, Prep rallied back to tie it in the fourth quarter and Westside managed to close it out for the 59-55 win, improving to 9-4 on the season and dropping the Junior Jays to 12-2.
Here are five thoughts on how the game played out.
Omaha Creighton Prep versus Omaha Westside is one of the fiercest rivalries in Class A. The two schools can’t stand each other, and it makes for a great game, especially when the game is held at Westside’s cozy little gym.
Both student sections were nearly full for the JV game ahead of the main event, and by the time the varsity game tipped off there was barely an empty seat in the gym. At halftime the student sections went back and forth with chants, and they went nuts in the fourth quarter any time their side made a play. That is what a rivalry crowd is supposed to look like.
The game certainly lived up to the hype, which hasn’t necessarily been the case over the course of the last several years. Before Tuesday night, Westside had managed to win just once in the last 11 years, and the Warriors finished with a winning record in just three of those seasons. The last time Westside beat Prep was during the 2013-14 season (Westside won 55-53) and the Warriors went on to finish as state runner-up, falling to Bellevue West in the Class A championship game.
This year’s Westside roster has the chance to be the best at Westside since that 2013-14 season. As for the Junior Jays, the loss was just their second of the season. They’ve got two more big games on deck this week against Millard North and Omaha Central, Prep’s other main rival (assuming the weather allows that games to go on as scheduled on Saturday).
Oh, and they did this pre-game as well, following the lead of the Tennessee basketball team.
— CP Varsity Sports (@CPVarsitySports) January 16, 2019
Battle of the Big Men
The headliner for Tuesday’s was the matchup in the middle between seniors Akol Arop of Prep (a Nebrasketball signee) and Chase Thompson of Westside. Arop and Thompson are quite familiar with each other having played together for OSA the past two summers. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and go-to moves. It was a fun battle.
Thompson got off to a slow start, shooting 1-of-6 from the field in the first quarter, but he bounced back to finish with 18 points, 12 rebounds (five offensive), three assists and a steal.
Arop finished with 17 points, eight rebounds (four offensive), and three blocks. He missed his only 3-point attempt and shot just 7-of-14 inside the arc, well below his normal rate. Arop may have an edge in athleticism, but Thompson has a good 40 pounds on him and used his strength to make life in the post difficult for Arop. On the other end, Arop’s length made it tough on Thompson, who was 5-of-10 around the rim and just 1-of-5 from deep.
Thompson’s biggest play wasn’t a bucket, however. It was an assist. After Prep rallied all the way back to tie the game at 51-all, Westside got the ball to Thompson in the post. He read the defense and instead of forcing up a shot, he skipped the ball to the corner to junior Carl Brown, and Brown knocked down the 3 to put the Warriors back in the lead with less than 2 minutes to play. Arop got a layup on the other end, but that only cut it to one (and it proved to be Arop’s only shot attempt of the fourth quarter) and the Warriors never relinquished the lead.
But beyond the team success, Tuesday was a big day for Thompson individually as well. He surpassed 1,000 career points for the Warriors in the game.
The game may have gone down to the wire, but Westside won it in the second quarter. The Junior Jays jumped out to a 19-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. Prep shot 7-of-13 from the field, 2-of-3 from deep and 3-of-3 from the line.
The Warriors flipped the game one its head in the second quarter, however, outscoring the Junior Jays 18-1. Eighteen to O-N-E. I’ve never seen a team like Prep go an entire quarter without a single field goal before Tuesday night. Prep shot 0-of-9 from the field including 0-of-4 from deep. Arop got just two shot attempts and Prep turned the ball over a few times trying to get it to him against Westside’s swarming defense.
PJ Ngambi, a 6-foot junior guard, led the charge, recording six blocks. As a team, Prep shot just 4-of-15 from 3.
Faber Finds a Way
Thomas Faber, a senior guard for Prep who holds several Division II offers, is known primarily as a shooter. He’s taking seven 3s per game and hitting them at a near 40-percent clip. However, against the Warriors Faber was just 1-of-4 from deep, yet he still found a way to control the game for long stretches.
Faber showed a bit of tunnel vision during the Metro Holiday Tournament, scoring 39 points on 39 shots with five assists and seven turnovers in the final three rounds. He forced up some tough looks that weren’t falling and missed some open teammates.
However, he was making a lot of good decisions on Tuesday night and showcased the kind of playmaking vision I’ve seen from him before. He finished with five assists and just one turnover, feeding Arop inside as well as finding shooters on the perimeter. With his jumper not falling, he did a great job of getting to the rim as well, especially in the pick-and-roll. Faber shot 7-of-9 at the rim, showcasing some burst to the basket as well as some craft and touch once he got there. He totaled 18 points, tying Thompson for game-high honors.
Prep didn’t get the win on Tuesday, but they’re normally going to be hard to beat when Faber is making plays for himself and others off the bounce like he did against the Warriors.
Bright Future in the Backcourt
Westside has three freshman guards listed on its varsity roster. Chandler Meeks has cracked the starting lineup already while Reggie Thomas is usually the first guard off the bench. Dominic Rezac sees most of his action on JV but does suit up for varsity as well.
Meeks only scored two points — on an impressive put-back that showed off his athleticism — while Rezac was Westside’s best player in the JV game with a number of impressive finishes at the rim.
Thomas made the biggest impact of the trio on Tuesday night, however. Heading into the game, the 5-foot-11 guard had missed the first 10 field goal attempts of his career. He had scored just seven points, all coming at the free throw line. Prep’s defensive game plan was the to help way off Thomas as his defender was playing free safety most of the night. Thomas made them pay for ignoring him, however, as a few timely cuts behind the defense led to three impressive layups in the first half, giving Westside a spark when it needed one. He missed both of his shots in the second half but still finished with six points, three rebounds and a steal.
With Meeks, Thomas and Rezac learning more and more with each passing game and with the junior duo of Jadin Booth and Ngambi leading the way, Coach Jim Simons isn’t going to have to worry about talent in the backcourt any time soon.
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.