Findlay Prep, Gaels on national stage

Holding a school’s all-time scoring record, winning two state titles and beating teams like Long Beach Poly (Calif.) and DeMatha (Md.) is more than most high school basketball players dream of.

But in Shabazz Muhammad’s four-year varsity career at Bishop Gorman, there is something the senior forward still is looking for: a victory over Findlay Prep.

“This would really top it off,” Muhammad said. “We’ve beat some really good teams this season, and we’ve been traveling to a lot of the biggest tournaments in the country. But this would definitely put a cherry on top of the sundae.”

Findlay Prep (18-1) plays Bishop Gorman (13-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Cox Pavilion with nothing but national rankings and local bragging rights at stake.

But with a sold-out crowd, ESPNU cameras rolling live and as much national hype as any local game has received in recent memory, both programs are hungry for a victory in what is being called the Big City Showdown Challenge. Findlay Prep is 3-0 in the annual rivalry.

“The seniors are 0-3 against Findlay Prep,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “All the seniors have won state championships, but they still haven’t beaten Findlay Prep. So it’s a big deal for them, and it’s a big deal for the city.”

Many fans and media members felt last year’s contest was the best high school basketball game they ever had witnessed. Findlay Prep won 89-86 in double overtime on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by seldom-used guard Kevin Kaspar, who has started nine games at Western Kentucky this season.

That illustrates the depth of talent in a game where it might be more fitting to ask how many future NBA players are on the court than future college players.

However, neither team enjoyed last year’s thriller like the fans did.

“If putting on a show is how it went last year, I don’t want to do that,” Findlay Prep forward Winston Shepard said. “I don’t want the game to be like that again. It was too close for comfort, you know? It was good for the fans, but it wasn’t such a good feeling for us. We want to come out and dominate the game.”

Asked about the excitement of playing Gorman again, Pilots coach Michael Peck quipped: “I think everybody else besides the staff is looking forward to it.”

Gorman hopes to enter the game sharp after hosting Bonanza at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Findlay Prep is coming off a 75-50 rout of Simeon (Ill.) at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., on Monday, after Gorman toppled DeMatha 73-65 in the same event.

Findlay Prep knocked off Simeon even without star forward Anthony Bennett, who sat out with an injured hamstring.

Bennett didn’t fully participate in Wednesday’s practice while nursing the injury, and Peck said the UNLV recruiting target might not play.

“I don’t rule anything out,” Peck said. “I’ve seen crazier things happen. We’re moving forward like he’s not, but if he is, it’s just an added bonus.”

Gorman, meanwhile, is getting healthy at the right time, as senior forward Ben Carter (foot) and senior center Ronnie Stanley (elbow) have returned from injuries in recent weeks.

“It’s good to come back full strength and see what we’re made of against one of the top teams in the country, if not the top team,” said Carter, who has signed with Oregon.

NOTE — Saturday’s showdown will come after a pair of games at Cox Pavilion. Ribet Academy (Calif.) will meet St. Bernard (Calif.) at 10 a.m., followed by Southeast League rivals Coronado (6-6, 4-1) and Foothill (9-7, 5-0) at noon. A spokesperson for said the event sold out more than a week ago.

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