Updated February 25, 2022 - 11:51 pm
Spring Valley was literally in the zone against Las Vegas in the first of two Class 4A boys state basketball semifinals Friday.
And once they were in it, they stayed there.
“That’s what we do,” coach Paul Blair said after the Grizzlies used a stingy 2-3 zone defense to outscore the Wildcats 22-5 in the second quarter en route to a 86-68 victory in front of a Cox Pavilion crowd estimated at 2,000.
“We try to slow people down playing a zone, make people shoot over the top. If you can shoot us out of it, then that’s when we’ll deal with it.”
Spring Valley never had to deal with it, thanks to 30 points from sophomore point guard Alijah Adem (two above his average) and 25 from senior forward Deasean Moreno, who scored 10 straight points during the Grizzlies’ second-quarter flurry that decided the game.
Powerful post presence Pharoah Compton scored 13 for the Grizzlies, who will meet Mojave, an 80-61 winner over Cimarron-Memorial, in Saturday’s 7:10 p.m championship game.
Las Vegas led 21-17 after the first quarter before growing impatient against Spring Valley’s zone.
The jump shots the Wildcats were sinking early stopped falling and drives to the basket were heavily contested, enabling the Grizzlies (15-6) to overcome an early six-point deficit en route to a 39-26 halftime lead.
Tavionte Jackson, Las Vegas’ 6-foot-2-inch senior guard who combines slashing moves with considerable jumping ability, led the Wildcats (18-7) with 30 points. He received support from Ernest Brown, who finished with 23.
But it wasn’t nearly enough for Las Vegas, which got no closer than nine points in the second half.
“You can’t slow Tavi down — we just try to give him different looks, so whenever he tried to get to the basket, we always had help coming,” Blair said. “It’s called a 2-3 spy, so we always had somebody on him, just like we were playing football.”
It might have taken three spies the caliber of James Bond for Las Vegas to contain Moreno in the second quarter.
Spring Valley trailed 26-24 before the 6-foot-4-inch swingman erupted for 10 consecutive points on a dunk, a putback, a two-handed tap-in, two free throws and another dunk that made the score 32-24 and brought the vocal Grizzlies cheering section to its feet.
“Our big man (6-6 Compton) fouled out. I knew I didn’t want this to be my last game, so I had to step up and make everything happen so me and my team could go to the state (championship game),” the slender Moreno said. “We never had a plan to go this far, so I’m really blessed to do it.”
Mojave runs past Cimarron
Back in their heyday under Nolan Richardson, the Arkansas Razorbacks played an up-tempo style called 40 Minutes of Hell — turn up the pressure for an entire game and the other side eventually will break down.
With the Mojave Rattlers, it’s more like 32 Minutes of Chaos.
“Controlled chaos — if we’re in control of the pace and the chaos, then we’re controlling the game,” said Mojave coach KeJuan Clark, whose team did exactly that in storming past Cimarron-Memorial in the second semifinal.
“A lot of teams don’t want to play full court, full speed, and we kind of just wear them down as the game goes on.”
It took Mojave (17-7) about a quarter to begin wearing down the Spartans (12-9). After leading 18-13 after the first eight minutes, the Rattlers pressed Cimarron into ball-handling mistakes and attacked the rim after the turnovers, often passing up open perimeter jump shots to dribble-drive for better ones.
Mojave led 43-25 at halftime, and Cimarron got no closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
Relentless Mojave used 14 players and 11 scored, topped by Amaris Quenum-Stewart’s 18 points. Nathan Sherrard added 12, and ninth grader Christopher Shaw and Ja’Marion Smith scored 10 each.
Tayan Thompson and Donte Turner combined for 49 of Cimarron’s 61 points, with Thompson getting 26 and Turner 23.
“We’re going to continue to play defense, continue to make everything they do hard, rebound the ball and then push it back down the court on them,” Clark said about matching up with Spring Valley, which uses a zone defense to control tempo, in Saturday’s title game.