In a matchup between the two losers of last week’s Metro Holiday Tournament semifinals, Omaha Westside went to Millard North and took down the Mustangs 69-52 on Saturday to claim an honorary third-place finish.
Here are five thoughts on the game plus a bonus thought on Omaha Skutt’s win at Bellevue East on Saturday night.
Win No. 100
The Westside win was the 100th for head coach Jim Simons who is in his sixth season at the helm for the Warriors, and he’s hit that mark with a career winning percentage north of .700.
The year before he took over, Westside went 6-17. The Warriors went 11-13 in his first season. In the next four seasons, Westside posted win totals of 19, 19, 17 and 24 with 23 total losses across those four years. This season, Westside is off to a 10-2 start and handed Millard North just its second loss of the season on Saturday in dominant fashion.
Westside hasn’t won a state title under Simons yet, but the Warriors did win last year’s Metro Holiday Tournament title as part of a 24-3 season, and this year it looks like they’ll once again be in the mix for a deep postseason run. Congrats to Coach Simons on the milestone; Westside is certainly in good hands.
Simons isn’t the only one why reached a milestone this week. In Westside’s 85-41 win against Bellevue East on Friday, senior Tate Odvody scored 13 points, pushing him past the 1,000-point mark for his career.
He followed that up with a 24-point outing against the Mustangs on Saturday, shooting 9-of-17 from the field (4-of-8 from 3) and 2-of-2 from the foul line. He also grabbed six boards including four on the offensive end, dished out three assists and added two steals and two blocks for a really strong all-around performance.
Kevin Stubblefield paced the Warriors in the first quarter with seven points on 3-for-3 shooting, but he picked up a second foul at the start of the second quarter and took a seat for the rest of the half. That’s when Odvody stepped up, pouring in 10 points including a pair of 3s after Millard North had switched to a zone defense to help the Warriors open up a nine-point lead at halftime.
For his career (including his freshman season at Elkhorn South), the 6-foot-4 wing is averaging 14.0 points while shooting 54% from the field, 38% from 3 and 85% from the foul line. Colorado Christian is getting a kid that really knows how to put the ball in the basket and has been doing so at a high level his entire high school career.
Room for Growth
After an 8-0 start to the season, Millard North — who returned just one starter and one key bench player from last season — has lost two of its last three. Even so, the ceiling for this team is still pretty high.
Sophomore forward Derek Rollins dropped his sixth 20-point game in his first 11 games as a varsity starter on Saturday, though 12 of the 20 came in the fourth quarter after the game had been all but decided. Regardless, the Mustangs are going to run everything through him first and foremost.
Their top playmaker in the backcourt, junior Elijah Gaeth, is averaging just under 12 points and six assists. He finished with 10 points, no assists and five turnovers against the Warriors as Westside really locked in on hm.
Rollins, Gaeth and junior sharp-shooter Neal Mosser (who hit three of his first four 3s but but went 0-for-4 in the second half) combine to average right around 41 points per game. On Saturday, they had a combined 39, so not too far below their average. Everyone else combined for 13 points on 14 shots.
For the Mustangs to compete with the best, they’re going to need a little bit more from their supporting cast — especially when their big three aren’t playing their best basketball — and that likely has to come from Skylen Williams, Camden Monie, Jacob Martin and Paxon Piatkowski. They’re all capable of it.
What Can Brown Do for You?
Odvody and Stubblefield will lead Westside in scoring more more often than not, while CJ Mitchell is a steady playmaking force in the backcourt. Caleb Benning is still working his way back to full strength but was a key part of last season’s success.
The wildcard is senior Kevin Brown Jr. He played in just 10 varsity games and scored two points all of last season, but this year he’s joined the four returning rotation players mentioned above as the fifth starter.
Brown scored 14 total points in Westside’s first four games as he settled in at the varsity level and figured out his role. In the last 10, however, he’s averaged 11.1 points with five double-figuring scoring performances.
That includes Saturday’s win as he finished with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and no turnovers. Additionally, Brown was the primary defender on Rollins and helped hold him to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in the first three quarters. Brown made the talented sophomore fight for everything he got, and Westside did a great job of sending help to harass him or provide backside support when Brown fronted in the post.
If Brown can continue to provide consistent offensive contributions in addition to the little things he does as a ball-mover and screener on offense and the team’s primary matchup for opposing bigs on defense, Westside should be a tough out moving forward.
Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Game
Westside didn’t shoot the ball particularly well on Saturday, finishing just 6-for-23 from deep. However, the Warriors still won by nearly 20 (and led by as much as 25 on multiple occasions) because of their defense and ball security. They simply got a lot more shots than Millard North did.
First of all, I had Westside down for just four total turnovers including just two in the first three quarters. Millard North finished with 14 turnovers including 12 in the first three periods. Westside also dished out 17 assists on 25 field goals, which produces a pretty phenomenal assist-to-turnover ratio as the Warriors moved the ball aggressively without giving it away.
Westside also had a narrow edge in offense rebounds, so the Mustangs weren’t able to steal extra possessions that way. Millard North went 6-for-9 from 3 in the first half to somewhat offset the possessions disadvantage, but the team cooled off in the second half (1-for-7) and Westside managed to pull away.
BONUS: Omaha Skutt 52, Bellevue East 45
The top team in Class B made the drive over to Bellevue to take a step up in class for a game against Bellevue East on Saturday night.
The SkyHawks have as much size as any team in the state regardless of class, so they shouldn’t have any problems stacking up against Class A teams, particularly ones who have just four wins over a month into the season. South Dakota signee Jake Brack (a skilled 6-foot-9 forward) and Wayne State commit JJ Ferrin combined for 33 points to lead the SkyHawks to their eighth straight victory to open the season, but it didn’t come easy.
Credit to coach Chad Mustard’s squad because the Chieftains did not go away. Thy trailed 13-7 after one, 25-17 at halftime and 40-26 after three quarters, but a huge fourth quarter from senior JJ Ball and some tough defensive possessions allowed Bellevue East to cut the deficit all the way down to five as the Chieftains opened the fourth with an 11-2 run.
Skutt was able to hold onto the lead as Ferrin went a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth (and 11-for-11 overall), but Bellevue East certainly put the pressure on the SkyHawks.
Ball scored 12 of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter including three tough 3s and a three-point play, but it wasn’t quite enough.
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.