For Bountiful, beating Highland 54-49 on the Rams' floor Friday night was a key win, seeing how it was the region opener for a pair of teams expected to fight it out with Viewmont for the Region 2 title.
To Brave coach Mike Maxwell, it was more than a key victory. It just happened to be the biggest win of his coaching career. Not only did it come against his father, Larry, a coaching legend in Utah high school circles, it came on the same floor he practically lived on as a youngster."This is real special for me," said Mike, an all-stater for Highland 15 years ago. "This gym is like a second home to me. This was against my Dad, who I've been emulating for years. I finally beat him at a game we both love."
Wait a minute. Didn't Mike beat his father a couple of years ago in a preseason game at Bountiful?
"I think he let me win that one," smiled Mike. "Tonight he was really going for it."
The night before, the two sat on a couch at a family party at Dad's house and chatted about the upcoming game. Did they share any secrets? "I think we were trying to set each other up," said Larry.
There was no doubt that both teams wanted to win this one dearly. Bountiful came in as the No. 4-ranked team in 5A with an 8-2 record, while Highland came in ranked No. 5 with a 7-3 mark.
The Braves may have been slight favorites, based on the fact that they had a better record and because Highland's starting guards, Todd Christensen and Matt Cannon, were playing together for the first time all season, coming back from injuries (stress fracture in lower back for Christensen and broken ankle for Cannon).
While they never trailed, the Braves were never comfortable until Christensen's 3-pointer to tie it bounced away with seven seconds left.
Bountiful took the lead at 50-44 on a three-point play by Curtis Billings, a free throw by James Cahoon and a pair of foul shots by Jeff Child. But with 30 seconds left, a 3-pointer by Garrett Ross made it 50-49. Matt Jacobs hit a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left, and after Christensen's miss, Allen added a pair of free throws.
Brett Allen led the scoring with 19 points, while Christensen and Ross scored 12 apiece for Highland and Gary Langston added 11.
For the elder Maxwell, it was another setback in his quest to reach 500 career victories in what is likely his final season of coaching (he's seven wins short). He never likes losing, but this one was a little different.
"If we have to lose to someone, losing to Mike is OK," said Larry.
Round 2 comes March 1 at Bountiful in the region finale for both teams.