abian Varela scored 23 points and Derek Gold had 18 to propel West Las Vegas past a spirited Cuba team 77-75 on Saturday evening.
The Dons came up with a critical defensive stop and Gold swished two free throws with nine seconds left to put the game just out of the host Rams’ reach.
Cuba’s Jamito Chiquito had narrowed West’s lead to 74-72 by hitting a free throw with 40 seconds remaining, and the Rams had forced several turnovers in coming back from a double-digit deficit.
But the Dons protected the ball when they had to. Jonathan Martinez drew contact and hit one of two charity tosses with 25 seconds to make it 75-72. And Gold connected on his trip to the line 16 ticks later.
That rendered moot a late three-point buzzer-beater by Cuba’s Markus Yla-Oijala, a key figure in the Rams’ comeback.
Yla-Oijala had reduced the margin to 72-71 after the Rams had stolen the ball from Gold with just over a minute remaining.
West Las Vegas’ victory was significant not because of the opponent but because the Dons did it without the services of leading scorer Adrian Rivera. The 6-5 senior post sat out the Cuba game to rest a rolled ankle.
The Dons will need a healthy Rivera to make a serious run in the Stu Clark Tournament, which opens today at the Wilson Complex.
West’s other players picked up the slack Saturday.
Varela, a sophomore forward who has emerged as one of the nice surprises this season, was his usual energetic presence on the boards and scored on a number of putbacks.
Gold, a senior guard, had his perimeter shot falling. His first three-pointer ended the first period by giving WLV a 19-15 advantage. His second increased the Dons’ lead to 58-43 with roughly two and a half minutes left in the first half.
The Dons also got a good game from Martinez and from Ambrosio Castellano, who had six of his 12 points in the fourth period.
Sheldon Vandever was Cuba’s top scorer.