Garrett Valenzuela / Special to the Sun
Saturday, March 1, 2014 | 4:47 p.m.
In the ballroom at a Holiday Inn Friday night, the Clark High basketball team received a crash course on Elko, the one team standing in its way of winning the program’s first state championship since 1993.
The preparation paid off.
Clark held high-powered Elko to its lowest scoring output of the season today in Nevada’s Division I-A state title game, putting on a defensive clinic and never trailing in a 43-25 victory. Elko had five points in the first quarter, and after a field goal drought of nearly nine minutes, trailed 22-8 at halftime.
It was as if the Clark players knew every play Elko tried to run.
“We were prepared. We watched film on all their sets and walked through everything in the ballroom of the hotel,” said Colby Jackson, Clark’s junior point guard who scored a game-high 13 points. “We were ready for everything they had (for us).”
The teams appeared evenly matched entering the game, and most at the Lawlor Events Center felt it could be the best game of the four-classification, three-day tournament. Clark had other ideas in quickly turning the game into a lopsided affair, leading by at least nine points from midway in the first quarter.
“There was a point where I knew they couldn’t score on us,” Clark coach Chad Beeten said. “I knew they couldn’t come back. As long as we took care of the ball we’d be fine. ... We held them to 25 points, and they are good.”
Everyone expected Elko, which Friday easily beat defending state champion Desert Pines in the semifinals, to rally. That’s especially true for the Clark players.
Last year, Clark opened the state championship game against Desert Pines with a similar scoring rally in leading by double digits. But they blew the lead in the fourth quarter — one of those defeats you never forget.
So, when Elko hit a 3-pointer on its first possession of the fourth quarter to cut the Clark lead to 33-18, there was reason for concern on the Clark bench. This year’s team, however, is different. They know how to finish.
Clark (24-5) closed the game on an 8-2 scoring run, giving the program its fifth championship all-time.
Diontae Jones, Clark’s senior captain who scored six points, broke down in tears when players were receiving their state-championship medals. It’s that feeling of accomplishment Beeten has worked the past four years to build, taking one of the Las Vegas area’s worst programs and transforming it into one of the best.
The season before he arrived, Clark won seven games.
“Four years ago they weren’t very good, but today they are. That’s all that matters,” said Beeten, who was so cautious in guarding the lead that he didn’t take his starters out until 20 seconds were left. “I saw the potential with an old school with all that tradition. There was an opportunity there.”
Don’t expect Clark to go away anytime soon. They are built to last.
In addition to Jackson, who will be one of Southern Nevada’s top seniors next season, Clark returns sharpshooter Carter Olsen, physical power forward Ty’Rek Wells (he took two charges against Elko), and some of the city’s best freshmen and sophomores.
And, now they know what it takes to win. They’ve matured from last year when they were just sophomores playing in the state championship game. Most sophomores in town are still on the junior varsity.
“It came down to about two minutes remaining and everyone was celebrating. Coach reminded us to focus and finish,” said Olsen, who buried a 3-pointer on his attempt to finish with 12 points.
Yes, Clark was prepared this time around.