The White Pine boys’ basketball team is in the heart of their league season looking to finish the season on a high note.
Despite starting the season 1-9 in non league action – against tougher competition – the Bobcats have begun 2A Southern League with a 6-5 record, good for fourth place in the nine-team league.
Bobcats head coach Justin Locke said playing higher division opponents before the beginning of league has helped his players improve, without thinking about the outcome.
“We went to two tournaments this year where we saw a lot of good competition,” said Locke, who is in his second season coaching the boys’ basketball team. “We go into those tournaments with the mindset just to hopefully work on the program, get better. Wins and losses don’t really mean a whole lot in those things, but you like to be a part of winning a few more of those, but I thought we got better.”
Although the losses piled up early, it never deterred his players from playing hard as the Bobcats have won four of their last six games, entering play on Jan. 22.
White Pine recorded back-to-back victories against Adelson and Laughlin on Jan 18 and 19, respectively.
The Bobcats were able to take a 33-20 lead at the break and never looked back for a 60-51 victory against Adelson.
The next day, Locke’s team was able to hold on for a 12-point win against Laughlin, securing the season sweep at home against both teams after the Bobcats were able to beat Laughlin on the road in a one-point fashion in December.
“Coming on the other side of that on a road win like that was a big confidence boost for us,” Locke said of the importance of securing a victory away from home in league play. “The big statement that I keep pushing to these kids is turnovers.
“That was a game where we still had a lot of turnovers and we’ve continued to bring those down every game which has given us more opportunities, at least have a possession where we get a shot off.”
Beginning play on Jan. 22, White Pine has six games remaining – all 2A South league opponents – including a game each against the top two teams in the league, facing first-place Needles at home on Jan. 26 and at second-place Lake Mead Academy on Feb. 2.
“Lake Mead and Needles are definitely, I think, the cream of the crop of the league and they’re pretty tough competition,” Locke said. “I feel after that we can compete with anybody else in the league, but it’s going to be dogfights for sure, especially when we’re on the road with some of those teams.”
In the standings, White Pine is 2.5 games back of Lincoln County for third place and leads Green Valley Christian by a half of a game as they currently sit in fifth place. The Bobcats travel to Green Valley Christian one day after their road matinee against Lake Mead.
Over the final eight games, Locke said a week ago, he hopes his team can finish as close to 6-2 as possible to have momentum heading into the postseason
“If we’re able to do the things we want to do, your hope is to always go and win every game,” Locke said. “I told the team, we want to start peaking at the right time during division, division time, so just continuing to get better each game and hopefully, we can win more than we lose here to finish out the rest of our season.”
In year No. 2 for Locke, he only has one returning player from last year’s varsity in senior guard/forward Ryan Walker, who has averaged 7.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16 games played for the Bobcats.
By only having one returning varsity player, Locke said everyone, including himself, has had to not be overly aggressive in order to continue building the foundations of his program.
“You have to have a lot of patience right now. We’re trying to teach some of those sophomores, juniors and seniors that right now,” Locke said. “I think we’ve made some pretty good strides here already with what I would like to see in a program.
“I have to remind myself it’s going to be a long haul, and putting the right people in the right spots to continue to build that and just have the patience to hopefully see that through.
However, Locke said he has seen the growth in his team to once again be a playoff-caliber team as the regular season reaches its end.
“I’m really proud of where this team has come,” Locke said. “A very talented group. They’re still learning the basketball IQ side of it. But talent wise, they’re right there with anybody in the league. I think they just need to figure out how to put a few more possessions together and continue to keep getting better every game.”