COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — Moments after Alta point guard Parker Walbeck sank a 3-pointer to force overtime, the Hawks' student section chanted "It's not over" to Brighton students across the court. Their pronouncement turned out to be premature.
Walbeck's trey ended up being Alta's final basket. The Bengals held the Hawks scoreless over the game's final four minutes and came away with a tough 44-39 overtime victory on Tuesday.
Getting the victory was neither easy nor pretty. But it does put Brighton a game ahead of Jordan atop Region 2 and two games ahead of Alta and Skyline with three games to go.
"We just battled to the end," said Bengals guard Jace Tavita. " We knew what we wanted. We wanted to win this so everyone can wake up in the morning and see Brighton is for real."
Tavita, who tied Walbeck with a game high 16 points, helped Brighton rally from a 23-16 deficit in the third quarter. The senior scored three baskets in a minute and half to put the Bengals within three at 25-22.
Tavita's spurt set the stage for an even bigger 13-2 run — bookended by 3-pointers from Corbin Miller and John Sherwood — which gave Brighton a 35-29 advantage left in the fourth quarter.
Brighton coach Lyndon Johnson said Tavita's active play after halftime made all the difference.
The senior delivered a gutsy second half performance — scoring all but three of his points in the third and fourth quarter. Tavita even played through some pain brought on by a collision with Zach Runia as the clock expired at the end of regulation.
"We had him in the right place (in the first half)," Johnson said. "He just wasn't as active as he needed to be. Then we got him the ball and he did a lot of good things on his own just by getting to the rim and finding teammates open."
Walbeck kept Alta alive with one good play after another. A chorus of boos from Brighton students followed the senior every time he touched the ball, but it never seemed to break his cool. Walbeck fed Jefferson Court for one layup and went backdoor for another to make it 35-33 with 1:30 to go in the fourth.
Tavita answered with what seemed to be a game-clinching driving layup a minute later. But Walbeck fought to get open and delivered his game tying three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation.
The final minutes may have produced much less drama if either team figured out how to make free throws down the stretch.
Both Alta and Brighton looked like graduates from a Ben Wallace free throw shooting camp. The two teams combined to miss 12 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter alone.
"It's just one of those deals," Johnson said. "If we make a couple, we don't have that situation."