Ten minutes into Friday’s Sunset Region boys championship game, it was obvious to everyone in the Desert Oasis gym that Bishop Gorman’s Shabazz Muhammad was in a groove.
Gaels coach Grant Rice knew it an hour earlier.
Muhammad set the pace by scoring 25 of his 29 points in the first half, and Gorman rolled to an 84-66 win over Sierra Vista for its third straight Sunset title.
The victory lifted the Gaels (25-5) into a Class 4A state semifinal on Thursday at the Orleans Arena. The Mountain Lions (24-6) face Eldorado in a play-in game at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Del Sol, with the winner also advancing to the state tourney.
“We could tell before the game that he was ready to go,” Rice said of Muhammad, a junior. “He was really in a zone.”
The Gaels, ranked 15th in the nation by USA Today, came out strong in the first quarter, but Sierra Vista kept it close with two 3-pointers by Viko Noma’aea.
Gorman’s lead was 18-11 at the end of the period, but the 6-foot-6-inch Muhammad was just getting started.
“I was very focused tonight,” Muhammad said. “I just left it all on the court.”
Muhammad opened the second quarter with a layup and a foul shot, and the Gaels began taking control.
“We were frustrated last night,” said Rice, who noted that his team’s semifinal victory over Palo Verde on Thursday was a bit tighter. “Tonight we did a much better job. We were patient on offense against their zone. We pulled ahead about four minutes into the game and never looked back.”
Ronnie Stanley’s layup with 4:12 left in the half started a 17-1 scoring spurt that led to a 50-28 halftime edge for Gorman.
The Gaels, who finished with a 39-20 rebounding advantage, refused to allow Sierra Vista second-chance points, and the lead grew to 68-44 when Demetris Morant closed the third quarter with a powerful dunk.
Muhammad said he felt the game was under control at that point.
“In the second half, I just facilitated,” he said. “I wanted to help the guys get open baskets.”
Maiscei Grier scored eight points in the fourth quarter to help Sierra Vista make it respectable and finished with 19. Noma’aea led the Lions with 23 points.
Rosco Allen had 18 points and eight rebounds and Ben Carter 10 points and 10 rebounds for Gorman.
“These championships never get old,” Rice said. “Our goals have been to compete for our school, win the league, win the Sunset Region and advance to state for a chance to do good things next week.”