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High school basketball: Wasatch boys the team to beat in boys 3A

There's Wasatch and then there's everyone else. That's the general sentiment heading into this week's 3A boys basketball quarterfinals.

At 21-1, including a 28-point thrashing over Grantsville in the first round last Saturday, the Wasps have had a near perfect season until this point.

They possess virtually no flaws compared to the rest of the 3A field.

Wasatch is the second-highest scoring team in 3A at 63.1 ppg, not to mention the second-best defensive team at 45.2 ppg. Mike Brown is the second-leading scorer in 3A at 16.8 ppg, while teammate Trevor Bamgartner is right behind at 16.6 ppg.

The Wasps have a preseason victory over 4A contender Timpview to their credit, not to mention a 20-point victory over Emery and a win over Morgan as well.

That Morgan victory, a 60-59 triumph, reveals that there might be a little kink in Wasatch's armor.

"I think they've had an outstanding season, and you certainly have to make them 'a' favorite. I don't think they're 'the' favorite," said Judge coach Jim Yerkovich. "They have three or four fine players, and they are definitely a favorite. I would say they are maybe one of three or four favorites. I don't think they're the prohibited favorite."

Before Wasatch can even think about its first state championship since back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004, first it needs to take care of business on Thursday in the highly-anticipated rematch against Morgan at 11:10 a.m. at Utah Valley University.

When these teams met back on Jan. 6, Morgan led by five at the half and was unlucky not to win when a game-winning lay-up attempt bounced off the back of the rim.

The Wasps' closest game since was a 67-60 non-region win over Hunter last week. Their average margin of victory in eight Region 10 contests was 21.7.

Some wonder if such region dominance will hurt the team in the playoffs.

"The one thing that I think hurts Wasatch, and it's no fault of their own, the level of the play in their own league was not what some of the other leagues were. That sometimes is a hard thing to overcome," said Yerkovich.

The weak region might only hurt Wasatch in tight games, a scenario it hasn't experienced in quite some time. That's assuming it's even close in the fourth quarter.

Even though the Trojans played Wasatch close earlier this year, they've been an inconsistent team this year and there's no telling how they'll respond at the McKay Events Center on Thursday.

Realistically, just about any team in the quarterfinals is capable of winning three straight games this week, though Judge and Emery seem the most likely after Wasatch. On paper it would appear the Region 11 and Region 12 champions are headed for a Friday night semifinal showdown, but first they must beat a few mysterious Region 9 teams.

Emery takes on Region 9 No. 3 seed Cedar at 12:50 p.m., followed by Judge against Region 9 runner-up Desert Hills at 2:30 p.m.

Excluding region games, Cedar didn't play a single team this season that's still alive in the state tournament, whereas Desert Hills' lone game against a 3A quarterfinalist was a 64-38 loss to Emery back in December.

With as well as Emery is playing, Cedar might need a miracle to slow down the highest-scoring team in 3A.

"I think we're playing more together. I think that's probably the biggest thing," said Emery coach Todd Jeffs.

Emery's inside-outside game of Colton Barnett and Tanner Procarione in the paint and Nevin Jensen, Mark Guymon and Derek Tuttle on the perimeter makes the Spartans are very tough team to stop. Barnett and Procarione both average in double figures, whereas the trio of perimeter players have combined for 105 3-pointers.

Judge is a team that relies heavily on 6-foot-10 big man Whil Whitt and point guard Zach Myaer.

Yerkovich is pleased with how his team performed this season, particularly in a tough region and with just one returning starter.

"They've improved all year long, they worked hard. Winning the region championship, with four fine teams in the region, I thought was a tremendous accomplishment for this group of guys," said Yerkovich. "I think we're a challenge for anybody, but I also know we can get beat by just about anybody in the field."

Thursday's first quarterfinal at UVU gets under way at 9:30 a.m. between Juan Diego and Hurricane, an intriguing rematch of the past two 3A football state championship games.

Juan Diego beat Hurricane 47-38 in last year's basketball quarterfinals as well, but this Hurricane team is much more adept offensively and defensively. The Tigers have some impressive preseason wins over Morgan and Emery to their credit this year, but they also have a puzzling loss to Canyon View, a team that won just two games all year.

e-mail: jedward@desnews.com