Boys' Basketball: Tigers meet up with Cheyenne in first round of state

It's a fair bet to say that the Douglas boys' basketball team won't have much of a chance to settle in when it steps onto the floor at Lawlor Events Center Thursday evening.

The Tigers will be taking on arguably the hottest team in the state in Cheyenne with a 4:40 p.m. tipoff.

The Desert Shields are coming off upset wins over Mojave in the Sunset Region semifinals (ending a 22-game win streak for Mojave) and perennial favorite Bishop Gorman in the regional title game.

Heading into the playoffs, Gorman and Mojave were widely considered to be among the top two or three teams in the state. Cheyenne, on the other hand, entered regionals as the No. 3 seed out of its league.

Cheyenne (18-7 overall) picked up its wins with balanced scoring and a staunch full-court defense that forced Gorman into 27 turnovers in the regional title game.

"We know they're a team that likes to get up and down the court," Douglas coach Corey Thacker said. "They are a full-court team on defense, they'll put a lot of pressure on you and they are very quick and athletic.

"They did a great job in their tournament. They got hot and knocked off some very good teams."

Douglas is coming off a tough 69-53 loss to rival Reno in the Northern 4A Regional title game Saturday. The Tigers punched their ticket to state, their first in 16 years, with a 47-43 win over defending state champion Galena Thursday.

"It's one of those things, you're not pleased with finishing second, but you know it's a great opportunity to get back in there," Thacker said.

Cheyenne enters Thursday's game with three players averaging in double-figures scoring and a big lineup with six players measuring in at 6-3 or taller.

The team is led by junior Elijah Johnson (6-4, 185, 14.4 ppg) who earned first-team All-Sunset Region honors this season.

Senior Christian Lightbourne (6-3, 195, 8.5 ppg) earned All-Northest Division second-team honors, and Ricky Henry Jr., (6-4, 190, 11.0 ppg) and Demetric Williams (6-0, 162, 11.4 ppg) will each provide tough matchups for Douglas defensively.

Douglas counters with its own healthy host of weapons, led by 6-7, 246-pound center Jeff Nady (17.6 ppg).

Senior forward David Laird (6-3, 227, 9.58 ppg) has been a force inside with Nady.

He's stepped up his game in the paint considerable during the playoffs as teams have been primarily focused on Nady.

Laird had 11 points against Galena and 14 against Reno and drew the defensive assignments against each team's Division I-bound post players.

While Nady and Laird have effectively controlled the middle this season, Douglas' perimeter play has been strong with senior forward Kevin Emm (6-3, 223, 7.7 ppg) and junior guard James McLaughlin (6-3, 10.9) leading the charge.

Emm hit 42 3-pointers so far this season while McLaughlin has 36.

Junior point guard Ross Bertolone (6-1, 178, 4.3 ppg) has been another to step up considerably in the playoffs, scoring a career-high 15 against Reed, eight against Galena and eight against Reno.

Thacker said he doesn't expect to do anything drastic with his strategy and that his team will focus on the same things it has been all year.

"We just want to continue what we've been doing," he said. "We want to take care of the ball and increase our defensive effort for 32 minutes.

"We need to focus on trying to knock down shots toward the end."

While Cheyenne will be able to put forth some height, Douglas has a considerable size advantage in terms of sheer bulk.

"That has been one of our biggest advantages all year is our size," Thacker said.

"We can take guys inside and bang with them the entire game. That's why we have trouble with Reno because they are the only other team up here with similar size and they are so deep that they can stick with us and wear us down."

As far as adjusting to the big-time environment at Lawlor, which has 11,784 seats, Thacker said it's a concern but one that every team competing will have to face.

"It's a big thing, there's no doubt," he said. "Every kid out there will have to adjust on the fly. Out of everyone in the tournament, Reno has one kid (junior guard Austin Morgan who played as a freshman on the Huskies' 2005-06 state title squad) that has actually played on the Lawlor floor, but for everyone else it will be brand new.

"It'll be a matter of who is able to fight through the nerves the quickest."

Thacker, who played in the state tournament when he was at Elko High School, and coached the Spring Creek Spartans in the 3A state tournament, said he is looking forward to seeing his team get into the mix.

"This is my second time getting to go to state as a coach, and I just keep telling the kids that this is a wonderful opportunity and we have to take advantage of it," he said.

Admission prices for the state tournament will be $5 for students and $7 for adults.

Admission will be free for children 8 and younger and senior citizens 62 and older.

Parking will be available in the designated parking garage only (attached to the north side of the arena).


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