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This may be the Vikings’ year

Steve Yingling

Don’t check the movie listings. Forget about leaving town for a rock concert. Tell your significant others that you’ll be busy Friday and Saturday nights.

For the first time in six years, the South Tahoe boys basketball team has the talent and momentum to make a serious run at the Nevada 4A boys state title. The second-seeded Vikings open the state tournament against third-seeded Cheyenne on Thursday in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal at Reed High in Sparks.

However, Viking coach Tom Orlich takes a cautious view of his 16th straight Nevada state tournament appearance.

“I don’t know if it’s our best chance. We’ve opened against teams not as strong as Cheyenne and lost. They are an athletic and emotional team and we’ll just have to see if we can rise to the challenge,” Orlich said. “We have a number of people who can score and that helps, although we didn’t demonstrate that in the zone championship game.”

While South Tahoe has been a regular at the Nevada state basketball tournament, Cheyenne is making its first appearance in five years.

“It’s been a long process for us getting to this point. The kids are really excited about this and they’ve worked very hard,” said Cheyenne second-year coach Larry Johnson.

South Tahoe, a second seed, has lost only one game to a Nevada team – a 64-62 overtime setback to Galena in the zone finals last Saturday – while compiling the school’s best record (26-5) since 1991-92.

The Desert Shields (18-8) won the Sunset League in Las Vegas, but a breakdown in transition defense cost them in a zone semifinal defeat to Valley last Friday. They bounced back to beat Green Valley 68-63 to earn a third seed.

“We set some pretty high goals for ourselves … a division title, to get a playoff game at Cheyenne. A lot of time we set goals as we win,” Johnson said.

Johnson would have preferred his Deserts Shields play third-seeded Reno or fourth-seeded Sparks, but is pleased they don’t open with tournament favorite Galena.

“We know we have a tough draw and a tough game,” Johnson said. “Everybody is saying Galena, and I have even heard some coaches down here say Galena is the favorite. But anything can happen. The team who gets a few breaks, executes its offense in tight ball games and plays good defense will win.”

Orlich has liked Galena’s state chances since early in the season and still feels that way.

“They’re still the team to beat,” Orlich said. “They are in a good bracket and they have all the pieces to win it: a great center, a great power forward and a great point. They have all the proper chemistry to get it done, and they were there before unlike any other team in the tournament.”

The Desert Shields have overcome two significant injuries to end their state drought. Demetrius Hunter, a 6-3 guard who leads the team in scoring with 16 points per game, missed six contests due to a sprained knee early in the season. Sixth man Bobby Antee, a guard, missed 12 games with a broken hand.

The versatile Hunter, a transfer from Green Valley, is widely considered the best prep player in Las Vegas, even though Clark’s Kevin Gaines and Cimarron-Memorial’s Brian Lang shared the area MVP award.

“Demetrius Hunter probably is the most athletic player I’ve seen,” said Las Vegas Review Journal prep sportswriter Damon Seiters.

Added Johnson: “He’s one of the players who has helped us get to where we are, but he’s only one piece of the puzzle.”

In recent games Orlich has eased back on the full-court pressure throttle, pressing sporadically instead of throughout. Since Cheyenne possesses more quickness than Galena, the Vikings may just fall back in their hard man-to-man defense.

“We didn’t want to get worn down against Galena. It depends on what Cheyenne’s makeup is in their perimeter game,” Orlich said.

As for defending Hunter, Orlich wouldn’t say if the 6-3 guard will be treated any differently than the other Cheyenne players.

“We’ll go ahead and defend him the best we can. The whole key for us is we don’t want to give them a whole lot of easy shots off transition and second shots,” Orlich said.

Because the Desert Shields emphasize transition basketball both offensively and defensively, Johnson goes deep into his bench.

“If I’m going to play nine guys, they have to have some fresh legs in there to play pressure defense,” he said.

State Notes: Johnson is occasionally mistaken for the former UNLV star and Knicks standout who shares the same name. “I tell them it’s not me. But when they meet me in person, they know it’s not because I’m 6-4 and I don’t have a gold tooth.” … Johnson can’t believe the quarterfinals are not in Lawlor Events Center: “That really needs to change. They’ve worked really hard to get this far and now they’re going to play in another high school gym.” Other players to watch according to Las Vegas Review Journal sportswriter Damon Seiters are Green Valley 6-1 senior guard Jamar Glasper; Las Vegas guards Ronnie Jones (19.5 points per game) and Mario Finley (10.6 points and 5.8 assists); and Valley forward Alex Hernandez, point guard Dion Jackson and swing man Jason Juniel.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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