Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Ray Brewer and Case Keefer briefly discuss the upcoming state basketball tournaments in Reno.
The Desert Pines High basketball team lost all but two players from last year’s state championship team. Despite the turnover, the Jaguars are back in the class 3A tournament, and two wins away from another title.
And, depending on who you ask, they are considered the favorites for the four-team event Friday and Saturday in Reno. The Jags face Spring Creek on Friday; the state finals are Saturday at UNR’s Lawlor Events Center.
“Last year’s team was really good, and this one is good too but the teams are different,” Desert Pines coach Mike Uzan said. “Last year’s team had a lot more experience.”
The Jaguars youthful roster is led by freshman Dayshawn Wiley, who averages a team-high 12 points per game. Wiley scored 14 in Desert Pines’ win against Cheyenne last Saturday in the 3A Southern League championship game. Senior Donovan Word also scored 14 points.
Word and Lorenzo Brown are the only two returners from last year’s squad. Neither are major scorers for the Jaguars but they provide rebounding, leadership and a defensive presence.
“We have some things that we focused on and make sure we execute defensively,” Uzan said. “If we can continue to play and execute on defense then we will be alright.”
Desert Pines has thrived on its staunch defense all season, but especially down the stretch. In the last four games it surrendered 37.5 points per game.
“When you make plays defensively you can get going fast the other way, and it’s a lot more fun to play on offense,” Uzan said.
The Jaguars will look to use their speed and athleticism against Spring Creek, the No. 2 seeded team from the Northern Region.
“We need to play our game,” Uzan said. “They’re pretty good. They’ve made it this far in this tournament so that tells you they’re a good team.”
In the other semifinal, Cheyenne takes on the North’s top-seeded Elko. If Cheyenne and Desert Pines win it would set up a rematch of last year’s state title game in which the Jaguars rolled the Desert Shields 69-46.
This year the teams split their regular season meetings, with Cheyenne winning 61-49 on Jan. 9 and Desert Pines winning 68-45 on Jan. 25.
The Jaguars are chasing their second-straight state championship, and third since 2013.
“That would be great,” Uzan said. “I’m always happy to win one of those.”