Whittell boys b-ball seeks to defend state title in Las Vegas, opens with Spring Mountain
For the second straight season, the Whittell boys basketball team is amongst Nevada’s elite — and the Warriors head to the state tournament seeking a similar result. Whittell begins the last phase of its Div. IV state championship defense Friday in Las Vegas, two wins away from winning back-to-back titles.
“It’s really exciting and we’re glad to have the opportunity again — it’s a great opportunity,” Warriors forward Quinn Kixmiller said. “We want to do it really badly.”
As Whittell begins a new quest for the Div. IV state championship inside Orleans Arena, the team finds itself in familiar territory. The Warriors again enter the tournament as the second seed from the Northern Region, and again open with South top seed Spring Mountain (Las Vegas, Nev.).
“It doesn’t matter to us — if we play as a team we can beat anyone,” Warriors guard Colin Buchholz said. “We’ve been through here before and we know what it’s like — we know it’s going to be tougher than if we were the one seed, but I don’t think it really affects us.”
The Warriors earned the North’s second seed by advancing to the regional championship, where they lost to Virginia City 37-33 last Saturday at Spring Creek High. Whittell concluded the tournament with a pair of poor shooting games, and it eventually led to a second straight loss to the Muckers in the regional title game.
“In the loss against Virginia City we were tired and just sort of out of it — that was our third game in three days,” Kixmiller said. “Being on the road and not having our own beds had an effect — now we know what we’re up against.”
In 2014, Whittell played just more than an hour from Zephyr Cove in both rounds of the postseason — and returned home between games. This season, the Warriors will play for the state championship seven-plus hours south a weekend after traveling six hours east for three games in the regional tournament — and they plan to handle life on the road better the second time around.
“It’s preparation before the day — leading up to the game we’ll be a lot more focused, get better rest and eat better,” Buchholz said.
The Warriors shot 28 percent in their regional championship defeat, a subpar offensive showing that included off nights from their two leading scorers — guards Palmer Chaplin and Buchholz. Whittell isn’t expecting both of its top offensive players to struggle again in the state playoffs — but will have a plan if they do.
“It reinforced the things that I have felt have been our issues all year,” Warriors head coach Phil Bryant said. “Our effort was good in zone, but our intensity wasn’t what I would have liked to have been — we didn’t battle through some lulls and take advantage of theirs.”
Whittell left Thursday morning in advance of its state opener against Spring Mountain (22-4) on Friday at 4:15 p.m. In the state semifinals last season, the Warriors knocked off the Eagles by three points to advance to the championship.
“We beat Spring Mountain last year, and they know that and remember that — they’re going to come out hot,” Buchholz said. “But with the loss, we’re going to come out stronger — we’re working hard this week watching them and studying them.”
Led the senior duo of guard Steve Jones and forward Tre’Vion Glover, Spring Mountain enters the state tournament riding a 14-game winning streak — including an undefeated run through the Div. IV Southern League. The Eagles have size, talent and athleticism, and once again present a tough test for Whittell — Bryant said the Warriors will have to control SMHS’ quickness in order to have a shot at victory.
“They’re better than us in some areas, they’re going in as the hot team and they’re at home — if you look at that, everything is stacked against us,” Bryant said. “But I like that — we’ll go down and give it the best shot we can, and we’ll accept whatever happens.
“If we get beat, it won’t be because we aren’t playing hard, playing with intensity and playing with purpose.”
In the first state semifinal, North top seed Virginia City (28-3) faces South second seed Pahranagat Valley (Alamo, Nev.) (16-7) Friday at 12:45 p.m. The Div. IV state championship game will be held at Orleans Arena on Saturday at 12:50 p.m., and could be the fourth meeting of the season between Whittell and the Muckers.
“I’m fine with it — I think we’re a better team,” Bryant said. “In the two games we lost to them, all of our numbers were not what they typically are. It wasn’t their defense — we shot ourselves in the foot.”
When Bryant took over Whittell’s program prior to the 2012-13 campaign, the Warriors were largely an afterthought on the hardwood. Three seasons later, Whittell is on the verge of becoming a small school powerhouse.
“It shows that we’ve been on the right track since the first year my son took over basketball,” Bryant said. “We’re really successful — if people want to count wins and losses we’re successful that way, but as much as anything our success is measured by the commitment that the kids have to the program.”
If the Warriors end the season with two wins in Las Vegas, it won’t be hard to measure their success.
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