WEST VALLEY CITY — Before they took the floor against the heavily favored and unbeaten Provo Bulldogs in the 4A championship game on Saturday night, the West High Panthers had to overcome one major obstacle: intimidation.
The Bulldogs, in their tradition-rich green jerseys, and their 17 state championships — including the previous two in 4A — and 40-game winning streak had some of their opponents already beaten before the games began this season.
But after seeing a couple of their Region 6 rivals put scares into Provo earlier in the week, the Panthers had no doubt that they could be giant killers on Saturday night. Plus, did anyone really think a group of West High kids would be afraid to play basketball against a team from Utah County?
West built a double-digit lead over Provo in the first half, saw it all evaporate in the third quarter and retook control and pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat the Bulldogs 56-44. It was just the second state boys' basketball title for the Panthers, with the other coming in 1975.
"Before we watched them play, we believed all the hype that they were unstoppable," said West forward Chris Barnes, the 4A Tournament MVP. "We were supposed to be beat by about 20 points. We just came out like warriors."
Barnes did most of the damage for the Panthers in the first half, as he scored 11 points before halftime to lead his team to a 23-14 lead at the break. Barnes, not known for being a long-range bomber, hit three 3-pointers in the first two quarters. The shots showed early that it might be West High's night.
"Chris started out shooting some shots and I'm like, 'Oh my hell,'" said Panthers coach Bob Lyman. "But they went in."
The Panthers knew they'd have to withstand a run by the Bulldogs at some point in the title game, and it came in the third quarter. Provo closed the third on an 11-0 run to take its first lead of the game at 33-32. The game stayed close the rest of the way and was tied at 40-40 with 3:13 to go.
Slowly but surely, West point guard Tyrell Corbin took the game over. The Panthers spread the floor and allowed the quick sophomore to do his thing. He scored nine of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, and his jumper with 2:55 remaining gave West the lead for good at 42-40.
"We didn't have much success executing our normal stuff, so we turned it over to Tyrell," said Lyman, who joined his assistant Clark Godfrey in being the only coaches to lead West to state titles in boys' basketball. "He did the job and made the rest of us look good."
Corbin declined to take all the credit.
"It took a total team effort," Corbin said. "I wanted to win this so bad for our seniors. This was the last time we'd ever play together and it meant a lot to try and get it for them."
West was able to put the game away with near-perfect free-throw shooting. The Panthers were 23-of-24 from the free-throw line and made their last 16 attempts. They scored their final 10 points from the line.
"I got to give West all the credit in the world," said Provo coach Craig Drury, who lamented the fact that his team shot a dismal 6-of-14 in foul shots and missed some open looks in the fourth quarter. "That's (make free throws) what you have to do. I'm feeling better that we didn't lose it. They had to beat us."
The pressure of earning a third straight championship and continuing a 40-game winning streak seemed to get to the Bulldogs in their loss. West, on the other hand, played loose and free throughout the contest, even when Provo made its charge in the second half. The 56 points scored by the Panthers were the most the Bulldogs gave up all season.
West also overcame foul trouble to bigs Ricardo Saldana and Daniel Wray for much of the second half. Both players, however, were on the court during crunch time and each made key plays on both ends of the floor. Wray finished with 14 points and four rebounds.
Barnes led West with 17 points and seven rebounds. Saldana had seven rebounds to go with a key tip-in late in the game that gave the Panthers a 46-40 lead.
The Panthers celebrated wildly in their locker room following the game. They jokingly went around asking each other how they spent their weekend, and while it was one that none of them will ever forget, the answer was obvious.
"I won a state championship," Barnes said. "That's how I spent my weekend."
4A All-Tournament Team
MVP — Chris Barnes, West
Kyle Collinsworth, Provo
Tyrell Corbin, West
Corbin Green, Olympus
Travis Parrish, Bountiful
Daniel Wray, West