Desert Pines boys basketball coach Mike Uzan is quick to point out that his team spends most of its practice time working on defense.
Occasions like Friday night are the reason why.
The Jaguars made two key defensive stops at the end of regulation and scored all their points in overtime from the free-throw line to pull out a 51-48 victory over Elko in the semfinals of the Division I-A state tournament at Silverado.
Coby Myles had 17 points and six rebounds, and Capri Uzan added 13 points and five boards for Desert Pines (22-9), which plays defending state champion Clark (22-8) in the title game at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Orleans Arena. The Jaguars lost to Clark 56-51 in the Southern Region title game on Saturday.
“Defense has been our staple,” Mike Uzan said. “That’s all we work on in practice, pretty much. We run some offense, but our defense was what pushed us through, and the guys know if you can’t defend, you can’t play.”
Elko (25-3) shot 27.6 percent from the field (16 of 58) in its first loss this season to a team from Nevada. The Indians were held scoreless for 5:15 during the fourth quarter and overtime.
Desert Pines’ Bryan Penn-Johnson, a seldom-used 6-foot-8-inch freshman, finished with eight blocked shots and changed the complexion of the game when he entered midway through the second quarter.
“We’ve been working with him all year, and we knew his length is great. And it was huge in this game,” Mike Uzan said. “He was able to clog up the middle and stop a lot of the penetration baskets.”
Trevon Abdullah tied the game at 46 with 2:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and had a chance to put the Jaguars ahead in the final 30 seconds, but his runner in the lane missed and was rebounded by Nathan Klekas.
Elko called timeout with 20.8 seconds remaining and put the ball in Klekas’ hands, allowing him to go one-on-one. But Jordan Simon blocked Klekas’ 3-point attempt, and after the Indians grabbed the rebound, Abdullah stuffed Eric Klekas’ 3-pointer just before time expired.
In the overtime, Myles put the Jaguars ahead to stay when his two free throws with 55.2 seconds made it 48-47. Abdullah’s two free throws gave Desert Pines a 51-48 advantage with 8.2 seconds remaining, and Nathan Klekas’ 3-pointer with one second left hit the front of the rim.
“They just fought, man,” Mike Uzan said. “We got a young group of guys. Our roster is very young, sophomore-heavy with a big freshman. They work their tails off, and you can see it on the court.”
Abdullah finished with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Nathan Klekas led the Indians with 16 points and 16 rebounds, but was 5-for-23 from the field as Simon shadowed him for much of the game. Elko’s Timothy Meo had 15 points and nine boards.
Capri Uzan had 12 points in the first half, and his three-point play with 1:22 left in the second quarter staked the Jaguars to a 24-23 lead at halftime.
Elko used a 10-0 run in the third quarter to go up 37-30, but the Jaguars answered with a 10-2 spurt to regain the lead. Abdullah finished off a fast break following a Penn-Johnson block to cap the run and give Desert Pines a 40-39 advantage midway through the fourth quarter.
“We had to stop turning the ball over. That was crucial,” Mike Uzan said. “We’d get out and run like we like to, and then we’d make a bad decision with the basketball. Once that stopped, we were able to climb back into the game.”
Clark 57, Lowry 31 — Chargers coach Chad Beeten could have taken the glass-half-empty approach at halftime with his team up four points.
Instead, Beeten went the opposite route.
“I liked the way we defended,” he said. “I always like the way we defend and play hard. When we weren’t playing that well offensively, not making shots, they didn’t panic. They knew eventually they’d start making shots and making plays off our defense.”
Darius Jackson finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four steals, and the Chargers wore down the Buckaroos (19-10) in the second half of the other semifinal.
James Bridges scored all 14 of his points in the second half and made four of Clark’s five 3-pointers.
Clark led 20-16 at halftime but came up with 14 steals in the second half to pull away. Colby Jackson had five steals for the Chargers, all after halftime, and Ty’Rek Wells added four steals.
Lowry made 12 of its 37 shots and committed 25 turnovers.
“It wasn’t really anything differently than the first half,” Beeten said. “It was the same game plan, same strategy. We just finally wore on them a little bit more. If we keep teams in the 30s, we’re going to win games. It’s as simple as that.”
Wells had a thunderous putback dunk to give Clark a 28-18 lead early in the third, and Bridges finished a beautiful passing sequence with a a 3-pointer that put Clark ahead 35-22 with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter. Colby Jackson bounced the ball between his legs to Carter Olsen, who found Bridges open on the wing for his first basket of the game.
“He got those same shots early. So did Carter, so did Colby. They just didn’t fall early for whatever reason,” Beeten said. “Maybe they were in a rush, a little jittery. But they fell in the second half.”
The Chargers then opened the the fourth on a 10-3 spurt to go up 51-28. Clark made 16 of its 25 shots in the second half and finished 24-for-46 overall.
Darius Jackson had eight points in the first quarter, and Trey Woodbury’s fast-break basket off a feed from Colby Jackson put Clark on top 20-8 with 3:23 left in the second quarter.
Christian Gray led Lowry with 12 points, but was held to only three points in the second half. Omar Guerrero added 11 points for the Buckaroos.
Clark will face Desert Pines in the state final for the second time in three years.
“I don’t know if either one of us has enough time to do anything differently,” Beeten said of the Desert Pines rematch. “We’re just going to go out and play hard. We’re two of the hardest-playing teams in the city. That’s what we’re known for, and it’s going to be a fun state final tomorrow.”