Hooper helps Desert Pines close out Wildcats

To say that Thomas Hooper relishes pressure situations for Desert Pines’ boys basketball team might be an understatement.

“The fourth quarter is the best quarter. That’s where you’ve got to bring it the most,” Hooper said.

Hooper brought the mentality of a closer to the court Tuesday, scoring 11 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter to help the Jaguars clinch a spot in the Sunrise Region playoffs with an 80-72 home win over Las Vegas High.

The senior forward also grabbed eight rebounds, including a late key one, and made 5 of 6 free throws after halftime.

Desert Pines (13-6, 8-5 Northeast League) snapped a three-game losing streak while avenging a 60-57 loss at Las Vegas on Jan. 12.

“That’s what we’ve been focusing on, and that’s big for us,” Jaguars coach Michael Uzan said of closing games. “Being close and not having it fall our way every time just kind of takes a little bit from the team. Being able to close this one out tonight at home is a confidence builder for us.”

Desert Pines’ Julian Jacobs made the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 52.2 seconds remaining, but missed the second with the Jaguars clinging to a 76-72 lead. But Hooper skied in for the rebound, and Donavin Wright’s foul shot with 46.5 left put Desert Pines ahead 77-72.

Hooper added a transition layup in the final minute to extend the lead to 79-72.

“It was a great team win because we went through that long struggle,” Hooper said of the three-game losing streak.

Las Vegas’ Hasaan Henderson stole the ball near halfcourt and was fouled soaring in for a dunk with 5:01 remaining, and converted the three-point play to bring the Wildcats within 66-57.

But Hooper knocked down a baseline jumper on the Jaguars’ ensuing possession to regain momentum.

Najee McIver scored 17 points for Desert Pines, which used an 18-4 second-half run to build a 66-54 lead.

Jacobs supplied 12 points, six rebounds and five assists for Desert Pines.

Phil Dunigan had 16 points and four assists for Las Vegas (17-8, 9-4), which is now locked into the Northeast’s No. 3 seed for the playoffs.

Henderson contributed 14 points, 14 rebounds and two steals for the Wildcats.

Traven Yancey had 14 points and Juwan Major scored 11 for Las Vegas.

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