For three quarters, momentum was up for grabs in Friday’s latest chapter of the hardwood rivalry between the Plano Senior and Plano West boys basketball teams. Neither side had held more than a two-possession lead, all while mixing in a litany of ties and lead changes in a back-and-forth affair.
Over the final eight minutes, the Wildcats made their move — outscoring the Wolves 14-6 during the fourth quarter to tough out a 56-48 road win and exit the first half of District 9-6A play on a positive note.
“I’m so proud of these guys. There might be some nights when they might not pass the eye test, but this is one of the toughest, hardest-working groups that I’ve ever had,” said Dean Christian, Plano head coach. “I’m proud of them because it’s hard to come in here and win.”
That’s doubly true when the Wolves’ top scorer is in the zone from the opening tip. That was the case on Friday as West junior Chase Ross caught fire early on, scoring 11 of his game-high 29 points in the first quarter and amassing 24 heading into a gridlocked final stanza, 42-42.
Although Ross accounted for all but one point scored by the Wolves in the fourth quarter, every make came from the charity stripe as Plano’s defense held West without a make from the field over the final eight minutes.
That same defense sparked the last of 13 lead changes with 5:45 left in the game after sophomore Makhi Dorsey forced a turnover near midcourt and found senior Bryce Bristow streaking down the floor for an uncontested dunk that gave the Wildcats a 44-42 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Moments later, Bristow converted a short jumper from the baseline and added another bucket with 2:00 left to match Plano’s largest lead of the night at 50-44.
Although Ross’ aggression off the dribble kept the Wolves afloat, the Wildcats were too steady down the stretch — getting late baskets from Dorsey and junior Jackson Hamilton to keep West at bay.
“Turnovers and missed free throws. You can’t turn the ball over, especially late and especially when it leads to dunks,” said Anthony Morgan, West head coach. “And you’ve got to make your free throws. There was a stretch where we went 0-for-5 and that pulls things away a bit. We’ve got to have some guys step up. We’re still trying to build with what we have, and it’s been a work in progress.”
Hamilton led the Wildcats with 19 points, routinely capitalizing on the Wolves’ array of zone defenses with a myriad of open 3-point attempts out of the corner. Dorsey chipped in 13 points on top of six assists and four steals, while Bristow jolted the Wildcats in the second half with 12 of his 16 points — including a highlight-reel, fast-break dunk on Ross early in the third quarter — and thrived in an impromptu move to center over the final two quarters.
“[Bristow] has been our go-to guy all year after being just a role player last season. It’s a testament to how far he has come,” Christian said. “He knew he had to step up and took it on himself to do that tonight. He’s so mature and he always delivers for us. We even had to play him a lot at the ‘five’ tonight … and to bang in the paint on top of everything else he has to do is crazy. He’s such a great kid. That was a big-time performance.”
It was enough to withstand a scorching night from Ross, whose isolation and transition scoring were on display — accounting for just over half of the Wolves’ total points scored in Friday’s defeat.
“We try to push everyone in transition, but [Ross is] such a great finisher,” Morgan said. “He can do some great things with it, but we’ve got to be better shooting overall. We didn’t shoot as well as I know we can from the perimeter.”
Ross tallied West’s lone 3-pointer, while junior Terrance Sanders chipped in 10 points in the team’s seventh district loss in as many games. Without a win at the midpoint, the Wolves’ first half has been marred by close setbacks akin to Friday — dropping its first four district ballgames by a combined 12 points.
“It’s been tough. We’ve had five games that went down to the wire and if those go in our favor then we’re in second place,” Morgan said. “It’s growing pains and it’s tough. They’re having a tough time with it, but championship teams figure out a way to win. They assert themselves at the end and we’re still developing that leadership.”
The Wildcats, meanwhile, sit at 3-4 in district play and firmly in the mix for the conference’s No. 4 playoff spot. They look to avenge a prior defeat at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they visit McKinney, while West eyes its first district victory that same time in a home tilt versus McKinney Boyd.
“We let a couple get away, especially against McKinney and Prosper, but I like our hand,” Christian said. “Anytime you’re still in it at this point, you count your blessings because every night is so brutal and so fatiguing on these young men. It’s like a college atmosphere every night in this district, from the scouting, to the preparation and the grind.”