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Wiser Wildcats get extra credit for turnaround

Some basketball teams spent Christmas break playing in tournaments or simply taking a mental hiatus from the game.

Not Las Vegas High’s girls.

The Wildcats spent their holiday break studying — Basketball 101. The syllabus included lessons such as how to shoot and making a bounce pass.

Nearly two months later, the skull sessions have resulted in a great reward, a trip to the Class 4A Sunrise Region playoffs. Having recovered from a 1-7 start, the Wildcats (9-9) will visit Green Valley (25-3) in a tournament quarterfinal at 6:30 p.m. today.

“We spent the whole Christmas break going back to basics,” Las Vegas coach Jennifer Brown said. “We went back to, ‘This is how you play, this how you shoot.’ The girls loved it. They were like, ‘Coach, we never learned that before.’

“We have five sophomores on varsity, so for a lot of them it was just developing the skills and learning the game.”

The Wildcats’ only win during the season’s first month and a half was a 57-31 victory against Spring Valley. They are 8-2 since the 1-7 start.

“We really needed to do the basics, the shooting drills and passing,” junior forward Milana Jones said. “We were awful on our passes, and that’s something that affected us in games.”

The Wildcats weren’t supposed to be contenders this season with only two seniors — guards Kelli Descheney and Shrae Jackson — playing significant minutes.

“We had to make a lot of adjustments,” Brown said. “Our guards weren’t used to trying to pass the ball inside. I’m really lucky because I have the most coachable girls probably in the city. They’ll do whatever I say. When they don’t understand, they’ll ask questions.”

The learning curve has accelerated quickly. The Wildcats’ only losses since Christmas break are to Desert Pines and Valley, the top teams in the Northeast League.

“It was very frustrating at the start of the year,” Descheney said. “It’s a lot of fun now. We want it more now, and we know what it takes to win. We want to do what it takes to win.”

Las Vegas also has become a more complete team, playing well on defense and sharing the scoring load. In the Wildcats’ last six games, Descheney, Jones and sophomores Shelby Nelson, Bri Johnson and Tia Matthews each led the team in scoring at least once.

“Our priorities changed, and we started playing more as a team,” Jones said.

The Wildcats will have a tough test, though, in trying to beat the Southeast League champion Gators.

“We’ve had to fight the whole last half of the season, and I just have to keep that fight in them,” Brown said. “I don’t want them to get comfortable. Our school hasn’t gone past the first round of the playoffs in nine or 10 years. That has to be our goal.”

In other Sunrise quarterfinals, Northeast champion Desert Pines (16-4) hosts Coronado (15-11); Valley (12-11) hosts Liberty (18-9); and Silverado (22-5) hosts Eldorado (9-13).

In the Sunset, defending state champion Bishop Gorman (25-3) hosts Cheyenne (8-15); Bonanza (24-4) hosts Legacy (17-9); Northwest champion Centennial (27-2) hosts Sierra Vista (21-9); and Palo Verde (16-7) hosts Durango (23-9).

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5230.

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