By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography)
OGDEN – By the time you get down to the final four teams in any championship tournament, you would expect to have weeded out the blowouts, and Friday night’s action at the Dee Events Center proved that to be true this year in 4A and 5A basketball, at least for the first three games of the night.
The 4A and 5A state semifinal games came in different styles, but the competition was fierce and the spots in Saturday’s state title games had to be earned. In Bountiful’s case, they seem to have received their state tourney wake-up call Tuesday night and they ran through a second straight opponent. Who captured our attention on semifinal Friday night?
1) Bushmen Ebet – Kearns is an amazingly athletic basketball team that, and they won their way into the semifinals with hustle, determination and fantastic pressure defense at just the right times. Those elements were there Friday night as well, but then there was an all-new piece of the puzzle.
Kearns knocked off Olympus in the first 4A semifinal of the night because Bushmen Ebet shot the lights out. The 6-foot-2 senior guard hit shots from everywhere on the floor, from dunks to long three-balls, connecting on 14-of-17 shots for 33 points to lead his team to a 63-52 win.
When Tayler Marteliz went behind the back in transition, feeding the ball ahead to Ebet, he put the finishing touches on a 13-2 finishing run by the Cougars with a driving lay-up and a free throw after being fouled on the shot. Ebet also pulled down nine rebounds, four of them at the offensive end.
With the incredible defense and energy he already brings to the table, if Ebet is going to shoot like that, he is a most difficult matchup.
2) Jesse Wade – The sight of Davis point guard Jesse Wade laying face down on the court after his attempt at a game-winning 30-footer rimmed out was a lasting image from this tournament. The 6-1 Wade is an amazing talent, and Friday night, playing with an injured right wrist, he did all he could to put his team on his back and will it into the finals.
At the end, he was spent, having given all that he had. The Gonzaga-bound point guard hit four 3-pointers in the initial stanza and six before halftime. He finished with 35 points, and when the Darts needed points to answer Brighton in the fourth quarter, he was the one to deliver them, attacking the rim and finishing.
With Davis down two and 4.2 seconds on the clock, with everyone in the arena knowing what was coming, he got the in-bounds pass, split a double-team and sprinted into the front court to get himself a pretty good look from about 30 feet out. Everyone in the house thought it was going down, but the shot rimmed out and Brighton survived to win a classic contest, but Jesse Wade certainly added to his already impressive resume.
3) Brighton balance – While Wade was putting on a show for Davis, Brighton answered with a whole bunch of incredible balance. The Bengals seized control of the game in the first half as three players all reached double figures in scoring. Add to that, complete domination of the backboards, particularly the offensive glass (22 1st half rebounds to 11 for Davis), and you had a 41-27 advantage at intermission.
Seniors Brock Miller (15 points in the first half), John Gremillion (11) and Osa Masina (10) got the Bengals off to a good start. In the second half, as Brighton saw its 13-point fourth-quarter advantage disappear, Simi Fehoko joined the scoring party in a big way, and then there as Derek Devashraayee.
After Wade hit a baseline jumper to put the Darts on top at the 1:32 mark of the fourth, after they had been chasing the entire game, the Bengals got a steal to get new life after having a shot blocked. On the ensuing possession, Miller was doubled, so he kicked the ball to Devashraayee at the top of the circle, and he swung it to the corner to a wide open Fehoko. The 6-5 junior was up to the task, draining a 3-pointer to put Brighton back up by two.
Wade answered with a strong drive that tied the game, and then Devashraayee, who had not scored all night long, drew contact and a foul. The 6-3 senior stepped to the line and buried a pair of free throws that turned out to be the final margin of victory.
Those two were the only points not scored by the four double-digit scorers for the Bengals. Miller and Gremillion finished with 17 each, while Masina had 16 and Fehoko 12, and that was the recipe for a Bountiful trip to Saturday’s state title game against Layton.
4) Answering the wake-up call – It was just Tuesday night when a couple of breaks and a huge Zac Seljaas shot (at the end of a 17-point fourth quarter) allowed the defending state champions, Bountiful, to survive Murray’s opening-round upset bid. Since that time, being in the Braves’ way has been a really bad place to be for opposing teams.
Clearly, Bountiful is determined to avoid any kind of drama going forward. It led Spanish Fork 37-16 at halftime, and then 56-28 at the end of the third period in the quarterfinal round, before coasting to the win. Then, the Braves got 18 first-half points from Zac Seljaas and 12 from Austin Parkinson in taking a 43-13 lead at intermission in Friday’s semifinal against Orem.
The Braves’ starters went to the bench late in the third period as Bountiful led by 31 after three, and it looked like they were done for the night. When the margin was trimmed to 20, they re-entered for a minute or so, as Bountiful went on to win the game 67-50, but it was never that close.
5) Winning ugly – Layton took to heart the old tournament phrase “survive and advance” in this year’s state semifinal round. The Lancers hit just 13-of-34 shots in their semifinal battle with Region 1 rival Viewmont, but that was enough.
The Vikings got 26 points from Austin Johnson and 13 from Jake Walker, but just three players scored at all for Viewmont in the 48-41 Layton victory. Meanwhile, Matt Cragun’s 11 points to lead Layton came mostly at the charity stripe, while Jakoby Kemp scored 10 and Jarriesse Blackmon added nine.
After Johnson buried a three to cut the lead to one point at 1:17 of the fourth, the game came down to the Lancers’ defense. A pair of Dallin Watts free throws increased the advantage to three with 27.2 seconds remaining, Julian Blackmon ended any hope of a game-tying 3-point attempt by stealing the ball on the in-bounds pass.
6) Closing strong – One thing that has become increasingly clear over its three games in this year’s 4A tournament is that the Kearns pressure defense becomes particularly effective in the latter stages of games. In each of its wins on the way to the state final matchup with Bountiful, the Cougars have closed strong each night, and it starts at the defensive end.
Friday night, it was a 13-2 run to close out the game that turned a tight battle with Olympus into an 11-point win.
The Cougars have faced Bountiful twice in region play, losing by 15 the first time around before battling to the final buzzer before losing in the Jan. 30 rematch. They will need that defensive energy from the opening tap to have a chance against the red-hot Braves this time around.
7) Jake Lindsey – A year ago, Jake Lindsey broke his wrist at practice a couple of days before the state tournament opened, and Olympus fell short of the result it wanted in a very successful season. This time around, Lindsey struggled with his shot on Day 1, but he had to be happy just to be able to play.
By the time Thursday’s quarterfinals rolled around, the Baylor-bound senior was back on his game, and his team needed every one of his 24 points in a one-point win over Maple Mountain. He delivered the same kind of performance Friday against Kearns, albeit in a losing effort.
Unfortunately, Lindsey went down hard while pursuing a rebound during the fourth quarter and he was clearly hobbled from that point on. He finished with 23 as he closed out his high school career with another strong performance, one he would gladly have traded for a semifinal win.
Brighton 64, Davis 62
Layton 48, Viewmont 41
Kearns 62, Olympus 52
Bountiful 67, Orem 50
Jesse Wade, Davis – 35 points
Bushmen Ebet, Kearns – 33 points, 9 rebounds
Austin Johnson, Viewmont – 26 points, 7 rebounds
Jake Lindsey, Olympus – 23 points
Zac Seljaas, Bountiful – 22 points
John Gremillion, Brighton – 17 points, 9 rebounds
State championship schedule (Friday 2/28 at Dee Events Center):
5A – Brighton vs. Layton, 12:30 pm
4A – Bountiful vs. Kearns, 3 pm