Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 | 11:30 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer discuss Durango's rise, Arbor View's fall and Centennial's near-miss against Gorman. Note: We apologize for Brewer's mic levels. Turn up the volume and you should be able to hear him fine. We will have the problem corrected for next week.
This is why they play the games.
The Desert Pines High basketball team entered its Saturday game against Findlay Prep ranked No. 398 in the nation by Maxpreps.com. Findlay Prep, of course, is a national power with just seven defeats the last five years. Ranked No. 1 in every poll.
But unknown Desert Pines, the Northeast Las Vegas school and Division I-A power, nearly pulled off an upset for the ages at the Hardaway Hoopfest at Coronado. They led Findlay six points with two minutes to play in the third quarter and had two shots to win at the buzzer in a 64-62 defeat.
Findlay, which is housed in Henderson, takes blue-chip players from around the world and plays a schedule packed with nationally respected opponents. It doesn’t compete for a Nevada state title, but plays exhibition games against Las Vegas area teams about three times annually.
State power Bishop Gorman typically keeps the score the closest, while others teams are blown out by 40 or more points. That was supposed to be how the Desert Pines game played out.
And, when most teams would celebrated the moral victory of a close game, the Desert Pines players weren’t all too thrilled. After all, it was a loss.
“That doesn’t do it for us,” Desert Pines coach Mike Uzan said in a phone interview when asked if his players considered the result a moral victory. “At the end of the game, it’s a loss and we are 20-3, not 21-2. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my kids. Without a doubt, they believed in each other and played a great game.”
Desert Pines stayed close until the fourth quarter when Findlay opened a nine point lead with about 2:30 to play, Uzan said. Instead of hanging their heads about blowing the lead, the Jaguars closed the deficit to two points with about 15 seconds to play.
Sophomore Coby Miles’ potential game-winning 3-point attempt rimmed in-and-out. Desert Pines got the offensive rebound, but couldn’t get up another shot.
Desert Pines is one of the top teams in Southern Nevada, but because other teams at the school have struggled in recent years, every program was dropped to the lower-tier Division I-A this year. That made Saturday’s appearance on the big stage — the multiple-game event at Coronado also included top-10 ranked Simeon of Chicago and other national teams — a rare late-season opportunity for recognition.
Uzan scheduled several non-league games against other local powers earlier in the season, but the Jaguars have been forced to play league games against the likes of Boulder City and Sunrise Mountain in flying under the radar.
Saturday, they made the ultimate statement.
“We are a good team. It’s just no one in the city believed in us,” Uzan said. “We practice hard and play hard. The kids really get after each other in practice.”
Julian Jacobs, the Jaguars’ top player and a USC commit, led Desert Pines with 21 points and eight assists, Uzan said. Miles had a solid shooting night to finish with 18 points and Donovan Wright scored 10 despite fouling out.
Findlay, which Friday beat Sunrise Region favorite Foothill 76-40, won for the 44th straight time in improving to 25-0 on the season.
“Findlay improved record to 25-0 tonight in just one of those games where we had to win ugly. Kudos to Desert Pines who fought to the end!” Findlay coach Todd Simon posted on his Twitter account.