It’s good for a basketball coach to know his team’s strengths.
Desert Pines boys coach Mike Uzan knows defense is the key for his squad.
The Jaguars forced 16 first-half turnovers Friday night on the way to a 58-47 home win over Virgin Valley.
“We play defense,” Uzan said. “We try not to give up any free buckets, any easy layups.”
The win clinched at least a share of the Sunrise League title and also locked up the league’s No. 1 playoff seed.
Desert Pines (19-3, 10-0) extended its man-to-man, making Virgin Valley work hard just to get the ball up the floor. And once the Bulldogs crossed halfcourt, the Jaguars made it difficult for them to get a good look at the basket.
Virgin Valley (14-9, 8-2) was 3-for-14 from the field in the first half, with leading scorer Garrett Leavitt going 3-for-12.
But the Jaguars were unable to pull away, largely because of their own sloppiness with the basketball. Desert Pines had 13 first-half turnovers.
“We play everybody, and sometimes that’s going to happen,” Uzan said. “We play all 11 guys, and we’ve got a young group, so that’s what happens. Our core is pretty young. That’s why we play defense.”
Leavitt got hot in the third quarter, scoring all 14 of his team’s points. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the quarter and cut the Desert Pines’ lead to 31-26.
“He shot the ball well tonight, he really did,” Uzan said of Leavitt, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “He got some open looks and took full advantage of them.”
Desert Pines freshman Capri Uzan followed Leavitt’s second 3-pointer with a long 3 of his own, then scored off a steal to push the lead back to 10, and Virgin Valley wouldn’t threaten again.
Coby Myles carried the load for Desert Pines, especially in the third quarter, when he scored 10 of his 20 points. He added five rebounds and five assists.
“He hit some good shots for us,” Uzan said. “That’s what we need from him. Coby’s a player, a very good player. For him to knock those shots down and have the confidence to take those shots is big for us.”
Desert Pines’ leading scorer and rebounder, Nate Grimes, played sparingly. Uzan said Grimes rolled his left ankle against Moapa Valley and had missed the team’s previous two games. The 6-foot-8-inch Grimes had just four points, but did make his presence felt on defense with three blocked shots.
“A lot of guys are banged up,” said Uzan, whose team hosts Findlay Prep at 6:30 p.m. today. “We tried to rest them as much as we could. We’ve had three games this week, and we have a fourth tomorrow night. It’s a long week for us this week.”
Re’meake Keith had 11 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots for the Jaguars.
Dee Bowler had 11 points and nine assists for Virgin Valley.
Contact reporter Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DamonSeiters on Twitter.