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BALANCED FIELD READY FOR 4A BOYS TOURNEY

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Diplomacy is alive and well in the 4A boys basketball ranks.

"I think we've got eight good teams in the field," Provo coach Craig Drury said in evaluating Wednesday's quarterfinals. "I don't think you could find more evenly matched teams."The Bulldogs are the defending champions, but top-ranked Murray may be the team to beat - though the diplomats aren't saying.

"I feel it's really a matter of who's playing the best basketball this week," said Murray coach Gordon Kener. "We hope it's us."

Led by reigning Mr. Basketball and Utah signee Jeff Johnsen, the Spartans have held the state's No. 1 ranking throughout most of the season.

"We respect our opponents, but I don't think we fear anyone," said Kener. "Though at this point, we have eight very good teams here."

Huntsman Center: This is the place.

Topping Wednesday's slate is the nightcap (8:10 p.m.) - a meeting between Provo and Region 5 co-champion Mountain Crest.

"It's going to be an interesting matchup," said Mountain Crest coach John Nielsen, whose Mustangs are 11-2 after a 3-5 start. "I think we are playing good ball right now. We couldn't ask any more of our kids."

Paced by the triple threat of Vance Roberts, T.J. Hart and Tony Brown, Mountain Crest takes the first available shot in a potent up-tempo offense. Nielsen, who replaced all five starters from a year ago, believes his squad is peaking at the right time.

Subscribing to a defensive philosophy, Provo is back in contention despite returning just two starters - juniors Mekeli Wesley and Jeremy Frampton.

"It's not like we are the Chicago Bulls or UCLA. It's a completely different year," said Drury. "We don't look at it as our tournament to lose, but rather as just being one of eight - then one of four, one of two and . . . I think we can repeat."

The Region 8 champions have been bolstered by the play of sophomore Eric Jackson, junior Kirk Chambers as well as seniors Kenny Hardy and Jed Stringham.

A glance at the other quarterfinal games Wednesday:

Box Elder (15-6) vs. Spanish Fork (12-9), 2:30 p.m.: The Region 5 co-champion Bees meet the only 4A team to win on the road in the second round - the Dons prevailed at Judge Memorial. Josh Davis is the center of attention for Spanish Fork, while Mark Larsen is the king Bee. The football champs would love to add some hardwood hardware to its collection.

East (17-4) vs. Pleasant Grove (14-7), 4:10 p.m.: Can Dan Stewart and the other big cats overcome the Vikings' sentimental journey? P.G. coach Alan Bahr has announced his retirement, after several years at the helm, at the conclusion of the tournament. Chad Bahr and Charlie Iorg are among those wishing to make the departure a happy one. Craig Sorensen and the Leopards have other plans.

Murray (19-2) vs. Sky View (14-7), 6:30 p.m.: An intriguing quarterfinal. The Bobcats have shown flashes of excellence with two wins over highly-touted Box Elder. Unfortunately for Sky View, losses have also come at the hands of also-rans Bear River and Ben Lomond. Murray, meanwhile, has long been considered the state front-runner.

Brett Tarbet and Chad Knight pace the Smithfield contingent. The Johnsen brothers - Jeff and Britton - headline Murray's attack.