Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 | 7:15 p.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer glance over both the Sunrise and Sunset regional playoff brackets. Will there be any surprises or teams other than Bishop Gorman, Canyon Springs and Foothill representing Southern Nevada next week in Reno?
The Las Vegas High basketball team was supposed to be one year away from competing for a championship.
The Sunrise Region title was expected to be won by Canyon Springs or Foothill — teams that went undefeated in league play and are led by proven upperclassmen.
Just don’t tell the Las Vegas players they have to wait until next season to make a playoff run.
Las Vegas never trailed today in the Sunrise Regional semifinals against Foothill, opening an 18-point lead in the first half, then fighting off a second-half surge for an 81-76 victory to advance to Friday’s regional championship game. Las Vegas plays the winner of today’s second semifinal between Canyon Springs and Valley for the Sunrise title and a spot in next week’s state tournament.
“We told our kids today to play for respect because everyone in the city was (saying) ‘Foothill-Canyon Springs, Foothill-Canyon Springs,’” Las Vegas coach Jason Wilson said. “We weren’t even in the conversation.”
Las Vegas junior wing Ray Smith, a top-50 recruiting prospect for the class of 2015, was as good as advertised in leading Las Vegas with 30 points. He’s one of four underclassmen with college-caliber talent in the Las Vegas starting lineup.
After Foothill rallied to even the score at 73 with 1:29 remaining, Smith quickly responded with a turnaround jumper to give the Wildcats the lead for good. Roberto Zavala, the lone Las Vegas senior to receive playing time, took the ball the length of the court for a basket after a Foothill turnover to give the Wildcats a four-point lead with less than a minute left.
Foothill, like it did the entire second half in erasing the deficit, didn’t back down. Matt Rapp drilled a 3-pointer with 41 seconds remaining to cut the Las Vegas lead to one.
But Devon Colley scored a layup on the ensuing Las Vegas possession to increase the lead to three. Then, Patrick Savoy Jr. came up with a steal at midcourt before Foothill could get a shot off and made a pair of free throws for the final points.
Just like that, the team of younger players proved age is just a number.
“We listened to our coaches and worked together. We’re not going to back down,” Savoy said.
Savoy opened the game with a 3-pointer less than 10 seconds into play. Soon, Las Vegas had a double-digit lead, having everything go its way while Foothill struggled to hit its shots. Foothill made 3-pointers at the first and second quarter buzzers, but still trailed 42-29 at halftime.
“I don’t know if we could have played a better first half,” Wilson said. “Everything went in. We got just about every rebound. We didn’t turn the ball over and they couldn’t hit anything. That helped. ... We told the kids at half you have to play as good or better in the second half to get the win. I’m not sure we did that, but our cushion was big enough.”
When Foothill mounted its comeback, Las Vegas didn’t wither. Sophomore center Tyler Bey finished with 14 points and helped control the inside with his long reach, finishing with five blocks. Savoy Jr. scored 16 points and Colley supplied 15.
Smith did a little bit of everything — he drew fouls taking the ball to the rim, hit 3-pointers and made precision passes to teammates.
“Ray brings a lot to the team,” Savoy said. “Everyone is focused on him. When everyone focuses on him, it opens up everyone else.”
Austin Starr led Foothill with 17 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers over a 30-second stretch with about five minutes to play in helping Foothill rally. Rapp scored 14 for Foothill and Jalen Shepard supplied 13.