For one of very few times this season, Centennial’s girls basketball team found itself in a close game and in danger of losing Friday.
The Bulldogs, ranked No. 5 nationally by USA Today, had a precarious four-point lead over archrival Bishop Gorman with just 1 minte, 40 seconds remaining in the Sunset Region final at Arbor View.
Justice Ethridge decided it was time to put the game away.
The Centennial sophomore scored four points in two seconds, including a back-breaking jumper off an inbound steal that lifted the Bulldogs to a 71-56 win over the Gaels and their sixth straight region title. Centennial (29-1) heads to Reno next week for the Division I state tournament. Gorman, ranked No. 23 by USA Today, had its season end at 29-2.
“I just saw it in her eyes, she wasn’t really paying attention,” Ethridge said of the inbound play. “So I just thought I had to jump on every opportunity. This could be our last game. I had to make my contribution to the team.”
With her team leading 60-56, Ethridge hit two free throws with 1:40 to play, then raced to the baseline to steal the inbound pass and hit a jumper that stretched the lead to 64-56 and started a game-ending 11-0 run by the Bulldogs.
“When you coach all these years, you wait for that one bucket that you think ‘That’s the dagger,'” Centennial coach Karen Weitz said. “I thought that was the dagger. When she did that I thought that’s what we needed right there.”
Just 14 seconds later, Megan Jacobs, one of three Division I college-bound seniors for Gorman, fouled out, ending the Gaels’ hope of a comeback.
Gorman played the final 12 minutes without star senior post Madison Washington, who injured her left ankle in the third quarter.
The Gaels, who trailed 50-37 late in the third quarter, hung valiantly, twice pulling to within three points in the fourth quarter and creeping within 60-56 on Raychel Stanley’s transition basket with 2:02 left.
“I told everybody it would be a barn-burner,” Weitz said. “These two teams come to play each other. They’ve been hearing all this hype about being ranked. It don’t matter. You still have to come out and play the game.”
Centennial, which had beaten every Nevada opponent it faced this year by at least 35 points, seemed to lack its usual fire early and trailed 18-13 early in the second quarter before using a 15-2 run to take the lead for good.
“I didn’t think we came out with a punch,” Weitz said. “I thought Gorman came out tougher than us from the tip. We didn’t play very good defense. A lot of the things we do in practice were left to the side tonight.”
Ethridge had 21 points, and Samantha Thomas added 14 points and 11 rebounds for Centennial, which faced Gorman for the 14th straight time in a region final and is 9-5 in the meetings. Bailey Thomas and Jayden Eggleston each scored 10 points for the Bulldogs.
Stanley had 19 points, and Washington scored 17 for Gorman, which got 11 rebounds from Jacobs.