Good teams find ways to win, and that was the case Saturday for the boys Desert Mountain basketball team.
Watching a comfortable lead slip away while facing the prospect of elimination in the 5A Division II state tournament, the Wolves raised the bar, increased the intensity level, and found a way to get it done. In defeating visiting Horizon, 75-72 that had both teams playing at a very high level, the Wolves overcame a press, sustained trap, and man-to-man defense to create a 7-2 run in the final 2 minutes to seal the deal.
The Wolves advance to play Betty H. Fairfax in the 5A-II semifinals at Jobing.com Arena on Wednesday.
“We have confidence in each other, and anyone is capable of making a big play at a big moment,” said Peter Smith, a 6-foot-6 senior who paced the Wolves with 20 points. “Our team runs deep and we trust everyone on the floor with the ball.”
To advance in this tournament, Desert Mountain coach Todd Fazio wanted the ball in Smith’s hands. The talented forward responded by running the floor well, scoring from the paint, popping key baskets from the outside and added a 7-for-8 shooting night from the line.
Yet, this came down to the Wolves handling a pressure defense.
Cruising with an 11 point lead late in the third period, the Huskies put together an 11-0 run to tie the game at 50-50. Here, Kye DeLaveaga picked up 6 points, four coming when he hit a three and was fouled. In this stretch, Matt Lee contributed four free throws and Stephen Staats, off the bench, popped in a 3-pointer.
The run was generated from a pressing defense, and a switching trap against the ball that led to timid play from Desert Mountain.
That tie was eventually broken when the Wolves’ Connor Johnson drilled in a jumper from the left corner with 4 seconds left in the third. That gave Desert Mountain a 52-50 lead after three quarters.
Yet, Horizon scratched and clawed, and jumped into leads of 62-61 and 65-63 before Smith canned two free throws to deadlock matters at 65-65 with 2:40 to play.
That set the stage for a three from Austin Cooke of Desert Mountain with 2:30 left in the game. That followed with four points from Dylan Cozens, and an eventual 72-69 lead with 55 seconds left.
“Cooke’s three was the most important shot of the game,” Fazio said. “Yes, high intensity. We knew what kind of game this would be and a playing against a high level of competition in our region helped to prepare us.”
Still, Horizon had one last opportunity.
With the Wolves holding a 75-72 advantage in the final 15 seconds, Huskies’ coach Paul Long decided to go for three in an attempt to tie. Staats’ attempt at a trey was off the iron, and the Wolves escaped with the win.
“We knew this would be close,” Smith added. “I guess it came down to the team with the most guts at the end.”
For the game, Desert Mountain placed five players in doubles. Smith’s 20 led all scored and followed by Cooke’s 15, Randy Azuogu’s 13, Cozens, who had 12, and Johnson contributed with 10.
The Huskies were paced by Collin Woods, who scored 19, while Staats added 12, and Lee chipped in with 11 points.