Updated February 26, 2022 - 10:04 pm
With all 21 teams based in Southern Nevada, and Bishop Gorman and Liberty pretty much dunking the ball among themselves in the fledgling Class 5A, the schools from the former 4A that remained behind literally became a league of their own this season.
And the final four of its state tournament at Cox Pavilion evolved into a Las Vegas city championship of sorts — which was just fine and dandy with Mojave coach KeJuan Clark and his players.
“This isn’t just for us,” Clark said after freshman Christopher Shaw scored 26 points to power the young and tenacious Rattlers to a 69-61 victory over Spring Valley for the school’s first boys state basketball championship. “This is for the whole Las Vegas community, bringing it back to them.
“Besides the Centennial girls, there’s all new champions across the state right now. It was great for us to win a championship in 4A. And we want to come back and win it again next year. I’ve got all these kids returning except for one.”
Mojave led 28-26 at halftime before going on a 6-0 run to start the third quarter by putting into practice what Clark kept shouting to anybody within earshot in a plodding first half — “get the ball and go!”
The Rattlers got the ball and went. They never trailed the rest of the way, protecting the lead with the kind of frantic defense that became their calling card.
“Just the confidence of believing in the system, believing what hard work does, playing defense,” Clark said of the keys to the second-half flurry. “They locked in, and they did it.”
Mojave (18-7) also made 23 of 28 free throws — Shaw went 10-for-10 — and 11 of 12 after Spring Valley clawed to within 54-51 with 3:59 to play.
Physical center Pharoh Compton led Spring Valley (15-7) with 22 points, including several thunderous dunks. Sophomore point guard Alijah Adem finished with 15 points for the Grizzlies, but had trouble finding the mark with shots way beyond the 3-point line.
“Mojave played a very good game — we did, too, but we weren’t at our best offensively,” Spring Valley coach Paul Blair said. “Usually we score in the 80s, and there’s no way we got there today.”
Mojave had trouble getting the ball inside against Spring Valley’s 2-3 defense at the start, but came out in a zone of its own — a 1-2-2 — leading to a low-scoring first half. Neither side led by more than four points before Mojave came out flying in the third quarter.
“Nobody believed, man,” Rattlers junior point guard Giali Chapman said during a raucous victory celebration at center court. “We did this, we did this, we did this!”