Gretna has the blueprint for teams hoping to stay with undefeated Bellevue West.
It wasn’t enough for the Dragons.
The state’s No. 3 team made tough shots late in the shot clock, clogged the lane on defense and let the Thunderbirds bomb away from outside at a 25% clip on 3s.
“They’re very tough to guard because they run their stuff and they run it relentlessly with great discipline,’’ West coach Doug Woodard said. “Landon Pokorski’s a tough cover. Then they do enough defensively and switching things up and giving you different looks, not guarding certain people and mucking things up in the lane.
“Yeah, it’s not an easy game.”
It wasn’t enough for the Dragons. Their defensive scheme played soft on West junior Eldon Turner, whose best night had been 12 points.
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He topped that by six. He made the 3 that put 15-0 West ahead for good, a trey that began an 14-2 fourth-quarter run in which the 6-foot guard was responsible for the first 10 points (two treys, an assist and a field goal). Top-ranked West won 58-47 Thursday night in its closest game of the season.
“If you’re just going to go roll the ball out with them, I think that’s a long night,’’ Gretna coach Brad Feeken said. “I’m not saying we can’t, I just think it really plays into their strengths and what they’re coached to do and how deep they are.”
Depth was on the Thunderbirds’ side. They went nine deep. Gretna had three of its five starters not leave the floor until the unit was subbed out for the final 30 seconds.
“We had more left in the fourth quarter than maybe they did,’’ Woodard said. “And Eldon was huge.”
Turner was shooting 31% on 3s. He was 4 of 6 against the Dragons.
“They had decided to take some chances because he hasn’t had a great year shooting, but Eldon’s a good shooter,’’ Woodard said. “He doesn’t get as many opportunities obviously when you’re playing with Jaden Jackson and Josiah (Dotzler) and Jaxon Stueve, and then our posts who get quite a few a lot of times.
“He’s fine with that because he’s a really good defender and moves the ball and shares it. But they really weren’t covering him tonight. And fortunately for us, he made them pay a little.”
It was clear, Woodard said, that Gretna was putting its tallest starter, 6-6 senior Jeff Rozelle on Turner. That gave Turner two options in the fourth quarter, which started with Rozelle nursing three fouls. Shoot from the outside or go on the drive and try to pick up another foul on the Dragon.
“He felt comfortable shooting it tonight. His shots look better here recently in practice, more consistent,’’ the Thunderbird coach said. “If he gets the ball up in the air, he’s a really good shooter. Because if you have to guard him with other guys you have to guard it makes some things pretty tough for people.”
Feeken saw resolve in the Dragons (10-2) “after getting punched in the first quarter.” They turned it over on six of their first eight possessions.
But by making 8 of 10 shots in the second quarter, they were the first team to be tied with West at halftime. And would have been the first to lead had it not been for Jaden Jackson’s putback before the buzzer.
Pokorski scored 15 of Gretna’s 24 second-half points for a game-high 21. Alec Wilkins had 11.
Besides Turner’s 18, Dotzler had 15 points and Jackson 10.
There’s no rest for the Thunderbirds in their final nine games of the regular season. Eight teams with winning records, including No. 2 Creighton Prep, No. 5 Millard North and No. 4 Omaha Westside (the last two the final weekend) and undefeated Sioux City East (at home Jan. 31). The ninth game is at rival Bellevue East.
It’s the opposite for Gretna. Only three of their final nine are against teams above .500, with a Feb. 10 date at Millard North the game against the Dragons’ highest-ranked remaining opponent.
At Bellevue West (14-0);15;8;16;19—58
G: Landon Pokorski 21, Alec Wilkins 11, Ty Smolinski 8, Alex Wilcoxson 3, Jeff Rozelle 23, Kade Cook 2.
BW: Eldon Turner 18, Josiah Dotzler 15, Jaden Jackson 10, Jaxob Stueve 7, Jacob Arop 6, Robby Garcia 12.