For all the peaks and valleys that have encompassed the first two months of the season for Plano’s boys basketball team, head coach Dean Christian is hopeful the past few days are a sign that the Wildcats are beginning to turn a corner.
Plano (2-3 in district) won consecutive games for the first time all season on Tuesday, holding off Plano West (2-3) at home, 57-43, in a District 6-6A outing that recalled some of the hallmarks of the Wildcats’ run to the playoffs last year.
“We’ve been really trying to figure out what it takes to be selfless and to sacrifice for your teammates. As a unit, they know that you sacrifice for people that have faith in you and show you trust,” Christian said. “These last couple weeks, we’ve been trying to show faith in each other and show trust, and then you’ll sacrifice. We’ve really emphasized that these last two weeks in practice and we’re now getting to the point where sacrificing for each other and it’s just a good feeling right now.”
Christian saw that chemistry rewarded on Tuesday with a commanding effort against the Wolves that was defined on the defensive end of the floor. With West down one of its primary playmakers in junior Farai Mandhlazi, the Wildcats capitalized to the tune of 23 turnovers by the Wolves — harassing passing lanes, stifling drives to the basket, drawing charges, denying entry passes, scrapping for loose balls and dominating the margins in a near-wire-to-wire victory.
“Everybody wants to see everyone else do better, and they’re sacrificing their own personal agenda for the team,” Christian said. “Once you get a bunch of high school kids thinking like that, they play different. We’re finally scratching that surface.”
Plano entered Tuesday’s ballgame ready to ride its junior backcourt of Makhi Dorsey and Xavier Williams beyond their normal workload, and the duo fueled the Wildcats’ big night on both ends of the floor.
They combined for 40 points — Dorsey with 23 and Williams with 17 — and nine steals — Dorsey with five and Williams with four. Dorsey, last year’s co-defensive player of the year in 9-6A, added three blocks in one of his better all-around games of the season.
“[Dorsey] is our leader and a veteran for us,” Christian said. “We lost a couple guys to grades and him and [Williams] were going to get some extended minutes tonight and knew they had to step up. It’s a good sign when he’s locked in like that and playing at that level on both ends of the floor.”
Dorsey keyed a 15-5 start for the Wildcats in the first quarter, punishing West’s zone defense with a pair of buckets from long range as part of a 4-of-5 start for Plano from deep — an area Christian said the team hadn’t had much success in until Tuesday.
The Wildcats’ hot start from beyond the arc helped them swell their first-half lead to as many as 19 points (31-12) against a West squad that had just four fewer turnovers in the first half (12) than total points (16).
“They just hit some shots. We figured they’d hit a couple,” said Anthony Morgan, West head coach. “We just weren’t executing on the other end and it had a lot to do with being out of sync with guys that still haven’t played a ton of varsity minutes.”
Early foul trouble to senior Terrance Sanders, who led West with 14 points, did the Wolves no favors as their double-digit deficit carried into the second half before the team ramped up its pressure and energy on defense to spark a rally.
Trailing 39-20 midway through the third quarter, West closed the frame on a 10-4 run and even trimmed the gap to as few as eight points (47-39) in the fourth quarter. Senior Grant Stapleton and junior Tre Jackson-Fields scored nine points apiece, several coming during the team’s comeback bid.
“We got a couple things going with a little bit of pressure,” Morgan said. “We started getting into our transition and got the ball inside a bit, but it all just came down to too many turnovers. We had way too many.”
Just as the Wolves looked to make Tuesday’s contest a ballgame, the Plano defense retaliated with an 8-2 run buoyed by more points off turnovers to creep the lead back into double digits — a sign Christian hopes serves the team as they prepare for a daunting two-game stretch against the top two teams in the district. The Wildcats next visit Coppell at 8 p.m. Friday and then host Marcus on Dec. 19.
“I’m pleased with the win but more importantly am pleased with the way we’re playing. If we play like that, we’ve got a chance to win on the road or at home in this district,” Christian said.
The Wolves, meanwhile, look to right the ship at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they visit Lewisville.