TWENTYNINE PALMS – Locating one of the CIF-Southern Section’s best boys basketball teams takes a long drive up I-10, with a hard left up Highway 62 toward the Morongo Basin. Under a pale blue, cloudless sky, you pass the Spunky Monkey Caf , the Cactus Mart and the Beatnik Coffee Shop. Negotiate your way past the little motels and the new-age shops and the Joshua trees that stand as high as football goalposts, and you’ll eventually wind up at Wildcat Gym. It’s the home of the Twentynine Palms Wildcats, who will meet Sherman Oaks Buckley at 8:15 tonight at Colony High School for the CIF-Southern Section Division IV-A title. “People think that we’re just from a piece of (garbage) town in the middle of the desert,” Bowden said. “We get no respect, but we’re good. We can play.” Bowden laughed when asked if cell phones worked up in Twentynine Palms and added the “stage coach even comes through occasionally and pauses to refresh its horses.” Wildcat assistant coaches and players take their cue from the laid-back Bowden, although the coaches have been more uptight than normal lately. “I had to settle (Mike) Snyder down yesterday,” Bowden said. “He was all excited.” Assistant coach Snyder objected, saying it was the other way around. “Who are you going to believe – a fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt or a guy who actually looks like a coach?” Snyder quipped. Soaking all this in are the players, resplendent in their black “2-9 Hoops” shirts. “It’s a lot of fun playing on this team,” Makovsky said. “The fun part is the bus rides. We tell jokes and have sing-alongs and we crack jokes on the coaches.” Twentynine Palms is a city of 26,400, with some of those living at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, the world’s largest Marine base. That’s where Singleton, a transfer from North Carolina, resides. He arrived here last spring from Camp Lejeune, near Jacksonville, N.C. His first impression of Twentynine Palms was not favorable. “When I first saw the place, I wanted to leave,” he said. “I slept through my classes and got three F’s at the end of last year. I thought my mom would send me back to North Carolina, but she said `Nope, you’re staying here with me.”‘ Twentynine Palms fans are glad Singleton improved his grades and stayed around. The feeling is mutual. Now the Wildcats just have to, as Barraza said, “seal the deal.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “I’ve watched these kids since they were in fourth grade,” said school security officer Louie Barraza as he unlocked the gym Thursday. “It’s not a surprise they’re where they are right now. Now we’ll just see if they can seal the deal.” Few are betting against the Wildcats (27-2), who have never won a section title. They have won 13 consecutive games and have pummeled their playoff opponents by an average of 22 points per game. The whippet-quick Wildcats average 68.6 points per game. They are led by high-flying, 6-foot-2 sophomore guard Montreal Harris, who averages 17.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Another standout is senior guard Nico Matthews (13.3 points, 5.9 steals, 4.2 assists.) Senior forwards Russell Griswold and Pierre Singleton both average nearly 10 points, while fifth starter Gene Makovsky, a senior guard, is the consummate role player. Larry Bowden is the unlikely-looking architect of this mercurial powerhouse. He’s a roundish, middle-aged man who works for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. On Thursday, he showed up in short pants, a Hawaiian shirt and Airwalk shoes.