No. 2 Gretna used a 12-0 run spanning the end of the first half and start of the second to build up a double-digit lead then cruised to a 58-43 win against No. 4 Omaha Westside on Thursday.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
I pulled up about 15 minutes before tip and was lucky to get a spot in the parking lot, and equally lucky to find a seat in the bleachers. The gym was packed, just like it was for the same game in the same location a year ago (when Gretna had to shut the doors after reaching capacity).
Gretna and Westside has quickly become one of the better rivalries in the Metro between what has happened on the gridiron and the basketball court. The two schools don’t care much for each other and the communities both show up to support them. The two student sections were rocking on Thursday and made for a terrific atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t quite live up to the hype. After falling behind 18-12 at the end of the first quarter, Westside opened the second with a 9-3 run to tie the game up at 21-all. Gretna responded by holding the Warriors scoreless the rest of the half, ripping off nine straight to build a 30-21 lead at halftime.
The Dragons then opened the second half with a 3-pointer and kept the lead at double digits the rest of the way for a nearly wire-to-wire win.
Gretna has allowed opponents to score more than 52 points just twice this season — once in an overtime win (57) and once in their only loss of the season (62). Teams are averaging just 47.4 points per game against the Dragon defense, and they’re off to a 10-1 start as a result.
Those defensive chops were on full display Thursday night as Gretna held Westside to its lowest point total of the season. With assistant coach Bill Heard coordinating things from the Gretna bench, 6-foot-6 senior Jeff Rozelle protecting the rim and players sitting down and working hard all over the court, Westside found few openings throughout the evening.
Westside didn’t score more than 12 points in any quarter and shot 34.7% from the field including 4-for-20 from 3.
Gretna had a fantastic game plan and the Dragons executed it beautifully, holding a Westside team that had everything clicking last time out at Millard North, 20 points below its season average.
Gretna has three players averaging double figures, and all three of them were terrific on Thursday.
The junior trio of Landon Pokorski, Alex Wilcoxson and Alec Wilkins have combined for roughly 65% of Gretna’s total points this season, and they upped that to nearly 75% against Westside.
Pokorski scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, converting some tough shots in the first half to help Gretna build the lead. Wilcoxson matched him with 16 points, shooting 6-of-10 from the field including 2-of-5 from deep. Wilkins chipped in 11 points on 4-of-7 rom the field (1-of-2 from 3) and 2-of-3 from the foul line.
Wilcoxson is one of the best shooters in the state while Pokorski is more than capable himself, but Gretna attempted just eight 3-pointers on Thursday. That trio did most of its damage at the rim with all three converting powering up shots at the rim through defensive contests.
Westside will go as far as its trio of junior starters take it, and on Thursday, Gretna’s 2024 kids definitively won that battle.
Kevin Stubblefield, the team’s leading scorer, had just four points at halftime and finished with 12 on 4-for-11 shooting (2-of-6 from deep) and just one trip to the foul line. CJ Mitchell finished with four points on 2-for-8 shooting, one assist and three turnovers. Caleb Benning did a good job of making plays for others (five assists, no turnovers) but didn’t make a shot from the field and went just 2-for-5 from the foul line.
In the win against Millard North, that group combined for 30 points, eight stocks (steals plus blocks), seven assists and just two turnovers. Those numbers were 18 points (on 21 shots), there stocks, seven assists ad four turnovers against the Warriors. Westside needs more from that group on both ends.
Senior Tate Odvody put up 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the first half to keep the Warriors in it, but Gretna really locked down on him in the second half (he only took three shots and his only bucket was an and-one put-back in the third quarter) and nobody else stepped up for Westside.
To compete with the best of the best, Westside needs those three juniors to be at the top of their game. They weren’t on Thursday, and Gretna came away with the victory.
Westside is still sitting at 10-3 on the season, however, despite Benning and Mitchell working their way back to 100% from offseason injuries. Westside has a chance to look like a different team in another month or so.
Welcome Back, Jeff
Gretna had to get by last week without its defensive anchor in Rozelle, who was out of town for the Dragons’ wins over Elkhorn South and Omaha Central last week. Thy welcomed him back for Thursday’s showdown with Westside and he made a big difference.
Rozelle notched his fourth double-double of the season, finishing with 13 points on 5-of-8 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line, 12 rebounds (four offensive) and two blocks.
On defense, he was never too far from the rim, helping off Westside’s struggling shooters to make life difficult in the paint and clean the defensive glass. On offense, he finished strong at the rim with a few self-created buckets mixed in.
When Rozelle supplements what the big three do offensively, Gretna is incredibly difficult to beat. He’s scored in double figures in five of his nine games but finished with just two points in Gretna’s lone loss of the season to Omaha Creighton Prep. Through nine games, he’s just shy of averaging a double-double at 9.7 points and 9.4 rebounds.