By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography)
OGDEN – Tuesday was opening day at the 2015 Utah state boys basketball championships at the Dee Events Center on campus at Weber State University. The day began with an overtime contest and ended with a shooting display unlike anything we have seen in a long time.
In between, there were plenty of memorable moments. Here are a few that struck me:
1) End of an era – Aside from all of the excitement on the court, one story that has to be acknowledged from Tuesday’s action was the ending of a significant era in Utah high school sports. For the past 32 years, Provo High head coach Craig Drury has manned the bench and over that time, he has won a lot more than he has lost.
Most critically are the young men whose lives have been touched by the coach whose teams have won more state titles that anyone else (eight). With 526 career wins, Bulldog fans were hoping for a few more at this year’s tournament, but it wasn’t to be as Logan jumped out early and kept Provo at bay all day long.
2) Bountiful comeback – It came down to the final seconds, 2.5 of them actually, but there was so much more to the drama of defending 4A state champion Bountiful’s Houdini-like escape from the jaws of Murray Tuesday. Down one, with those 2.5 ticks to go, Braves’ star Zac Seljaas delivered the biggest shot of his storied career.
Jake LaSalle was the trigger man on an in-bounds pass from in front of the Murray bench, about 70 feet away from the Bountiful bucket. The 6-foot-2 senior delivered the ball to Collin Parrish at the high post area, and as the Spartan defender collapsed towards him, the 6-7 senior kicked the ball out to Seljaas a few feet behind the three-point arc.
The future BYU Cougar had time only to catch and shoot, and his shot hit nothing but the twine at the bottom of the net, sending the Bountiful faithful into jubilation and disappointing a Murray group that had outplayed the Braves for much of the night.
It was a huge clutch shot that capped a six-minute stretch in which Bountiful made up a 13-point deficit to keep alive its hopes of a repeat title, but it is also a shot that almost wasn’t. They say you need to catch a break or two, have luck go your way, on the road to a championship, and the Braves caught theirs in the postseason opener.
Just seconds earlier, Murray’s AJ Hodges had broken down his Bountiful defender with a nifty crossover as he worked his way to an open look about 12 feet out. His shot swished the net, and with 3.9 seconds remaining, the Spartans had the slim lead back and were in position to pull a huge tournament-opening upset.
Then, before Seljaas’ heroics, the Braves inbounded the ball from beneath their own basket. The pass ran along the sidelines in front of the Spartan bench, and when Lual Arok tried to cut it off, the ball appeared to go off Seljaas’ hand and out of bounds. The officials saw it differently however, and awarded the ball to Bountiful with enough time for the Braves to execute the game-winner and claim the 58-56 victory.
Seljaas scored 17 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth period, while Jeff Pollard added 17 and 12 boards for Bountiful. Hodges scored 14 for the Spartans, and point guard James Walljasper had 16 when he fouled out with 1:01 remaining. That foul was another difficult break for Murray, as it appeared two officials called the foul different ways, but instead of sending Walljasper to the line with a one-point lead, that call gave the Braves possession that led to a Seljaas lay-up that immediately preceded the end of game exchange and drama.
3) Timpview shooting – The first quarter of the eighth game of a long day did not provide the impression that Timpview would win by a large margin. In fact, with the Thunderbirds turning the ball over on possession after possession, it looked like they were going to be in trouble.
Then, the second quarter arrived, as did reserve guard Levi Wilson, and the rest became historic.
After scoring the final basket of the initial stanza, Wilson delivered eight points during the early minutes of the second period including a pair of 3-pointers, as Timpview ran off a 15-0 run to seize control of the game. Wilson’s barrage was followed by treys from Gabe Reid, Colson Santiago and a pair from point guard Britain Covey as the T-Birds hit six straight deep balls in the second and scored 29 points in the eight-minute quarter.
Combine that with tenacious defense that yielded just seven Sky View points in that period, and you had the makings of a Timpview blowout win. The Thunderbirds turned a two-point first-quarter deficit into a 41-21 halftime advantage and when they just kept going after the break, the end result was a 30-point margin of victory at 83-53.
The shooting numbers are staggering. At halftime, the T-Birds were shooting 84 percent from the floor (16-for-19) and 89 percent from 3-point range (8-of-9). For the game, Sky View connected on a respectable 45 percent of its shots, but Timpview’s numbers were still off the charts – 72 percent from the floor (31-of-43) and 75 percent (12-of-16) from deep.
The biggest story, however, was the Thunderbirds balance and sharing of the ball. Of its 31 made baskets, Timpview players assisted on 20 of them. This was a team running on all cylinders, piloted by Covey, who finished with 12 points and eight assists. The senior flipped a switch in the second period and his attacking of the Bobcat defense set up open shot after open shot.
Reid was the leading scorer with 14 points, while Gavin Baxter and AJ Bollinger joined Cover with a dozen each. Wilson’s 10 first-half points was his end-of-game total, but that gives Timpview five players in double figures.
4) Kearns comeback – The emphatic hammer dunk with which Bushmen Ebet closed out Kearns’ 67-59 double-overtime win over Timpanogos in Tuesday’s 4A first round was a release for the Cougars, who had spent the better part of two hours chasing the Timberwolves. The senior stole the ball, his eighth steal of the game, near midcourt and punctuated the victory with a vengeance.
For three quarters Tuesday, Kearns played well enough to be hanging around in striking distance in its battle with Timpanogos, but the Cougars had a difficult time getting past the fact that they started the game off down 7-0, and then 14-2. They did not have a lead of any kind in the game until the 1:30 mark of the fourth quarter, when a Journey Buba bucket put them on top 50-48.
Kearns first turned on its swarming, attacking pressure defense in the second quarter and it allowed the team to stop the bleeding, but when the Cougars really needed it, late in the game, it was that defense that made possible a fantastic late-game finish and a double-overtime win over the Timberwolves. Bushmen Ebet had four steals in the fourth quarter alone, a stanza in which Kearns limited its opponent to just six points.
Ebet finished the game with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight steals, tracking towards a triple-double in an unconventional way. Buay Kuajian scored 19 and point guard Tayler Marteliz ran the show well down the stretch as Kearns found its way into the second round of the tournament.
While Timpanogos had success early on, and managed to maintain its advantage until the 1:40 mark of the fourth quarter when a Kuajian lay-up evened the score at 48-48, in the fourth quarter and overtime, the athletic Cougar wing players, particularly Ebet, just had too much for the Timberwolves to hold off.
5) More double overtime – The double-overtime theme for the day started in the opening contest Tuesday morning. Try as it might, favored Olympus could not get East to go away and the result was a fight that might have been more than the Titans were expecting.
As Olympus star Jake Lindsey struggled to get his shots to fall, East’s Dacian Spotted Elk hit big shots on the other side. After an 8-0 run in the fourth seemed to put the Titans in position to close it out, they missed the front end of one-and-one not once, but twice, and that was the opening the Leopards needed to extend the contest.
Isaac Monson hit his two charity tosses for Olympus with six seconds left to extend what had become a one-point lead out to three, but Spotted Elk excited the Leopard faithful with a running 3-pointer that tied the game and sent it to the first extra session.
Both teams had chances to win it in the first overtime, but neither capitalized and then the Titans found a measure of consistency in the second OT to pull away for the 56-49 win. Olympus scored each time it had the ball in that second extra stanza.
For Lindsey, it was a 21-point morning, but it came on 6-of-26 shooting. Sometimes you just have to gut out a rough game and hope to survive it, and for the senior, that’s just what happened Tuesday.
6) Region 8 finds success – With wins by Timpview, Maple Mountain and Spanish Fork, the folks in Region 8 found some tournament success that had been hard to achieve the past couple of seasons. Despite sending teams to the state tournament as favorites for deep runs, the Utah County-based league had not found a lot of success come tournament time.
A year ago, Springville made a bit of a surprising run to the semifinals, but the league’s other three teams, including its top seed, Timpview, did not get past Day 1. That followed on the heels of the 2013 season, the last time the tourney was held at Weber State, when Region 5 swept Region 8 on the opening day.