Desert Pines Battles Back To Win Their 2nd Straight State Title

Alex Wright

Cathleen Allison/Las Vegas Review Journal
Desert Pines basketball team explodes off the bench and onto the court at Lawlor Events Center in Reno, Nevada to celebrate winning their second consecutive state championship.

What a team, what a ride, what a game!

Desert Pines graduated eleven seniors from last year’s state championship team, many of whom have been on varsity for three or four years. With only two returning players from the previous team, many from the outside would have considered this year a rebuilding year.

Rebuilding years usually do not result in state championships, but at Desert Pines, they expected to be back here and win it all.

The Jaguars outlasted the Cheyenne Desert Shield in the 3A State Championship game on February 24th in Reno, Nevada, 48-44 in overtime.

At the beginning of the year, the Las Vegas Sun ranked Desert Pines tenth, out of ten in a pre-season ranking of the best high school teams in Las Vegas. With so many new members on the team, questions arose how this group would develop on the court chemistry; also how all these new players on varsity would adapt to the much faster more competitive pace on varsity.

You could say that their transition was fairly smooth. An issue evident in the early part of the year was team stability. A few players, who were to have an important role on the team, decided to leave the team, thinning out the bench and forcing new guys to step up.

The story of Desert Pines basketball is playing their best basketball at the end of the year. This year was no different, Desert Pines headed up to Reno winning 13 of their previous 15, clinching the division championship and earning another the southern regional championship.

On Friday, Desert Pines took care of Spring Creek in the state semi-final game, 60-43. The Jaguars took a 18-14 lead after the first quarter. Desert Pines never took control of the game, but maintained a steady lead. The Jaguars were lead by freshman Dayshawn Wiley with 15 points. Big man Darnell Washington, off the bench, scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter.

In the other semi-final game, Cheyenne battled the northern regional champions-Elko. Nearly three-quarters of the gym at Reno High School were rooting for Elko. Cheyenne lost the lead late in the fourth quarter, and as the crowd went wild, Cheyenne remained calm. So did sophomore guard Ke’Shawn Hall, who hit a late three-pointer and then two critical free throws to give Cheyenne a 57-53 victory, and set up the rematch everyone has been waiting for.

At Lawlor Events Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Reno, Desert Pines and Cheyenne battled for the 4th time this season…much more on the line in this match-up than their previous three. This game was for the state championship.

Cheyenne, who lost to Desert Pines in the regional championship the previous week, and lost to them in the state championship game last year, came ready to play. The Desert Shields jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead.

Cathleen Allison/Las Vegas Review Journal
Coach Mike Uzan, Desert Pines head basketball coach, going over defensive assignments and motivating his team as they begin the 4th quarter down 38-32

Desert Pines answered back with an 8-0 run to finish the quarter with a 10-8 lead. Cheyenne’s backcourt of Kavon Williams and Ke’shawn Hall got hot in the second quarter, making three 3-pointers to finish off the first half with a 23-19 lead. Williams also started off the third quarter with 9 straight points.

The run by Cheyenne forced Desert Pines to mix up their 2-3 zone defense. They tried slowing down the pace of the game, but Cheyenne finished the third quarter with a six point lead, 38-32. The Jaguars have faced several times this season, faced a fourth quarter deficit. And so many times this year, they managed to fight back, and this game was no exception.

Desert Pines never got down on their luck and kept digging, through the first 7 minutes of the fourth quarter they outscored Cheyenne 10-6. They cut the deficit to 2, 44-42, and with under a minute to play.

Out of a timeout, the Jaguars drew up a play for their 6’7” sophomore Darnell Washington. Washington, who had came through in the clutch for football, did so again on the hardwood. With 33 seconds left, Washington went to the basket strong and his layup tied the game up at 44.

It sent the game into overtime, Desert Pines won the tip-off to being the 4-minute extra period. After a missed shot, Cheyenne took possession. They held the ball, held it some more, and kept on holding. The Desert Shields were holding for the final shot; after nearly 2 minutes of holding the ball, they turned it over. 

Cathleen Allison/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Darius Mitchell with the layup attempt late in overtime to give Desert Pines a 46-44 lead in overtime.

Desert Pines ran in transition the other way, senior Darius Mitchell found himself with the ball, and an open lane to the basket. Mitchell, who was the only Jaguar starter who did not receive any all-conference or all-division votes for post-season recognition, came through in his final game. Desert Pines took a 46-44 lead with 53 seconds remaining.

After another missed shot by Cheyenne, Mitchell snagged the rebound and was immediately fouled. He found himself at the line for two free throws to put the game on ice. Inconsistent play from the free throw line has been an achilles heel for Desert Pines. Mitchell took his time and knocked down the first one, then the second one. With 11 seconds left, Desert Pines extended their lead, 48-44.

Cheyenne’s final prayer shots failed and the game was over. Desert Pines exploded out of the bench and onto the floor. This was the first state championship for 8 of the 11 players, the second consecutive championship for the basketball team and the third championship in total for the basketball team.

Mitchell, who was grabbed out of the crowd of people by his teammates to raise the state championship trophy, could not stop grinning after the win. He told the Review-Journal, “The fact that I played a game like this with a team like this, it’s just great.”

Not to be forgotten is the work of Coach Mike Uzan; he has turned the basketball program at Desert Pines into a powerhouse, including 3 state championships. Since 2013, only 2 coaches have as many or more state championships as Coach Uzan, (Grant Rice-Bishop Gorman, 6 and Chad Beeten-Clark, 3).

Coach Uzan could not have been more proud of his team after all the trials and tribulations they have faced this season. He told the RJ, “We’ve got some outstanding kids over at Desert Pines.” Desert Pines started off the year 7-7 and it was appearing unclear if they could repeat as state champions. They dug down deep and worked through the dark times and accomplished their goal-a state championship. And yet again, overcoming the odds and proving the naysayers wrong.