By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography) & Kevin McInnis
There are no off days in Region 4 boys basketball, and it just keeps getting more interesting in what looks to be the state’s deepest league. Just when it appeared that five teams would be fighting for the four available postseason spots from the region, last week happened and now, everything is even more up in the air.
Lone Peak seems relatively safe in the top spot, and after a 68-61 win over St. Joseph (New Jersey) in Friday night’s nationally televised ESPNU contest, the Knights appear to be the favorite to win it all in Class 5A. Then again, it’s only been a week since Lone Peak lost to Herriman, the league’s sixth-place team, so who really knows what to expect down the stretch and on into the playoffs.
The sad fact is that only four of these talented teams will make the state tournament, and that means at least two very deserving Region 4 squads will be left home when the dancing starts.
It seemed that Herriman (3-5 in Region 4, 10-7 overall) would be one of those on the outside looking in right up until that Tuesday night win over the Knights. Now, after the Mustangs backed that up with a victory over seventh-place Riverton Friday night, they are very much in the thick of things, with four games left, against each of the four teams with whom they will fight it out for a postseason berth.
Lehi (3-4, 11-7) was in a pretty good spot, or at least it seemed so, but a home loss to Pleasant Grove followed by a stunning defeat at the hands of Riverton leave the Pioneers reeling with five contests left on the schedule. Lehi also has games against those other four teams in contention for the region’s final three postseason spots after the Pioneers host Lone Peak Tuesday night.
Back-to-back wins over Lehi and Westlake have vaulted Pleasant Grove (4-3, 13-4) from the No. 5 spot to third place. The Vikings and Westlake split their season series, leaving Pleasant Grove with five games to go, against each of the other teams in the league.
Westlake (4-4, 14-4) had the look of a state tournament favorite even after losing an early-season region game to American Fork, but the Thunder have lost three of their last four (to Lone Peak, American Fork and Pleasant Grove) and all of the sudden, they are in danger of missing the postseason entirely. Westlake’s next two games are against Lehi and Lone Peak before they close out the season with a pair of must-win contests against Herriman and Riverton.
The odd scheduling quirk brought on by that made-for-TV Lone Peak game had American Fork (5-3, 15-4) in an early hole in the league standings, but the record was deceiving. The Cavemen were 3-3 to open region play but two of those losses game against front-running Lone Peak.
Now that things are evening out in the schedule, American Fork is in good position, for now, sitting in second place. The Cavemen need to avoid slipping up in their next two road games (at Herriman and Riverton) to set up two critical season-ending battles on the home court against Pleasant Grove and Lehi.
The loss to Herriman aside, it would take a significant collapse for Lone Peak (7-1, 16-4) to finish anywhere but on top of the final league standings. Because the Knights have games remaining against Lehi, Westlake and Pleasant Grove, they will have a lot to say about who gets in, and which team is left out of the playoffs.
Because of the talent that exists from top to bottom in this league, the next two weeks are going to be intense. Each game night features at least one game that will take on playoff-like significance, and the ones that don’t put the playoff hopefuls head-to-head are opportunities for another upset to trigger chaos in the Region 4 standings.
Here are a few games to watch over the next two weeks:
Tuesday, Feb. 9
Herriman at Pleasant Grove (if the Mustangs are going to keep the upward momentum going, they need this one)
Lone Peak at Lehi (it won’t be easy, but the Pioneers need a big win in the worst way)
Friday, Feb. 12
American Fork at Herriman (another chance for the Mustangs to stay in the playoff hunt)
Lehi at Westlake (Hard to believe, but this could be a chance for the Pioneers to push the Thunder towards the brink of missing the playoffs)
Tuesday, Feb. 16
Herriman at Lehi (depending on how this week goes, this one could be one last chance to hang on to the end of postseason contention)
Pleasant Grove at American Fork (could be a battle for survival or a fight for seeding position)
Westlake at Lone Peak (the Thunder hope this is a chance to avenge an earlier loss to the Knights while working for seeding, but it could be a must-win for Westlake by the 16th)
Friday, Feb. 19
Lehi at American Fork (hard to say how meaningful this game will be, but it could be critical in determining who is in and who is out of the postseason)
Pleasant Grove at Lone Peak (same story for the Vikings, could be all about playoff seeding or might be a must-win for the visitors)