The top two teams in the state faced off on Thursday night in the Thunderdome as No. 1 Bellevue West pulled away from No. 2 Gretna in the fourth quarter to improve to 15-0.
Her are five thoughts on the game.
For the first time all season, Bellevue West went into the locker room at halftime without a lead. It was tied at 23-all. The Thunderbirds faced their first fourth quarter deficit of the season as well as Alec Wilkins scored the first three points of the period to put Gretna ahead 41-39.
Then Bellevue West turned it up several notches.
The Thunderbirds ripped off a 14-4 run to pull ahead 55-43 with just over two minutes to play, canceling the upset alert.
Bellevue West went 5-for-9 from the field including a pair of triples and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter while limiting Gretna to nine points on the other end.
Gretna pushed Bellevue West far harder than any team has this season, yet Bellevue West still managed to secure its 15th straight victory by more than 10 points.
Bellevue West’s top three scorers — Creighton signee Josiah Dotzler, junior Jaden Jackson and sophomore Robby Garcia — combined to average over 40 points on 54% shooting. They put up just 27 points on 27 field goal attempts on Thursday.
It didn’t matter, however, because junior point guard Eldon Turner stepped up.
The 6-foot guard scored a career-high 18 points (just the seventh double-digit game of his career), and he did it in an incredibly efficient fashion. Turner shot 6-of-8 from the field including 4-of-6 from 3 and hit both of his free throws as well.
Turner was solid in the first three quarters, but he saved his best for the fourth quarter when the team needed him most. He hit the go-ahead 3 early in the period, then set up senior Jaxon Stueve for a layup with a great pass, then hit another 3, then drew a foul and hit two free throws. Of that decisive 14-4 run, Turner accounted for 10 points himself (including the assist). He also had a block on a Gretna layup that triggered a Bellevue West fast break, resulting in an assist from Dotzler to Jackson to cap off the run and give the Thunderbirds a 12-point lead.
Turner had hit just five 3s on the season heading into Thursday, but his shot was pure against the Dragons and the T-Birds kept on rolling as a result.
The game had the look of a blowout early on. Like with pretty much every team Bellevue West has played this season, the Thunderbirds’ relentless pressure and aggressive switching defense gave Gretna all sorts of problems.
The Dragons fell behind 15-6 after one, largely because they had a hard time even getting a shot off. Bellevue West forced seven first-quarter turnovers and held Gretna to 2-for-8 from the field.
The Dragons regrouped during the quarter break, however, and flipped the script in the second quarter. They use a 15-2 run to take the lead and outscored Bellevue West 17-8 overall in the period.
It often took them deep into the shot clock, but the Dragons scored on nearly all of their possessions in the second quarter, shooting 8-of-10 from he field while turning the ball over just twice.
Gretna only had two turnovers apiece in the third and fourth quarters as well. They went hard to the rim in the third quarter to keep it close heading into the fourth, but couldn’t find enough offense to stick with the high-powered Thunderbirds in the final period.
Crashing the Glass
Bellevue West shot a season-low 38.7% from the field, but the Thunderbirds found a way to win in part because they managed to rebound nearly half of their 30 misses, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds in all.
Gretna defended Bellevue West really well, but it’s really hard to get multiple stops on the same possession.
Up 23-21 late in the second quarter, Gretna could have taken a lead into halftime with one more rebound. They did a great job forcing Dotzler into a long 2 with the clock winding down, but Jackson tracked down the air-ball for the rebound and put it back up and in as time expired to tie it up.
Junior big man Jacob Arop dominated the third quarter on the offensive glass as well, scoring all six of his points in the period following offensive rebounds. He scored a put-back and drew a foul on two other players, hitting all four of the free throws.
Seven different T-Birds grabbed at least one offensive rebound in the game as they crashed from all angles, and it made a difference.
Need More Firepower
Gretna defended Bellevue West better than anyone else has this season, holding the Thunderbirds to a season-low 58 points (which is even more impressive on their home court).
If there’s a rematch in Lincoln, however, Gretna will need to find some more offense if they hope to knock off the top team in the state.
After struggling in the first quarter, Landon Pokorski scored nearly half Greta’s points in the last three periods, finishing with a game-high 21. Fellow junior Alec Wilkins added 11 points on 5-of-7 from the field including some really difficult buckets. Ty Smolinski, another junior, added eight points and went 2-for-4 from deep (the only Dragon to hit a 3).
However, Bellevue West did a fantastic job on Alex Wilcoxson and Jeffrey Rozelle (24 points per game combined on the season), limiting them to five points on 2-for-9 shooting. Wilcoxson, one of the best 3-point shooters in the state, only found space for two perimeter attempts, missing both.
Bellevue West did a great job of shutting down all of Greta’s off-ball actions and played straight up, forcing guys to make one-on-one plays. I only credited the with three assists, all int he first half.
To win a potential rematch, Gretna is going to need better than 0-for-6 3-point shooting from its dynamic backcourt of Pokorski and Wilcoxson, and Rozelle will have to find a way to provide an interior presence, either creating on his own or finishing plays off passes from his guards.
Hopefully we’ll see a round two in this match-up, because Gretna certainly made Bellevue West work for this win.
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.