OREM — The playoffs are all about survival, and that's exactly what Judge did Thursday afternoon.
It took abandoning their core defensively philosophy to get the job done, but that was just fine with the Bulldogs. There are no bonus points for style in the state tournament.
Playing a zone instead of using its traditional man-to-man defense, Judge plugged away against an extremely athletic Desert Hills team and eventually prevailed with a 50-46 overtime victory in the 3A boys quarterfinals at Utah Valley University.
Neither team shot well, and both were plagued by turnovers at times, but Judge hit the big shots in overtime. Now the Bulldogs will face Emery in the 3A semifinals at 9:10 p.m. on Friday.
"It's been a real pleasure to coach these kids. At the beginning of the season, this is one of the most inexperienced teams we've had. They've come a long, long ways," said Judge coach Jim Yerkovich.
Judge never trailed after taking a lead midway through the second quarter, but it never led by more than nine either in an extremely tight game in the second half.
"They did today what they've done all year long, get ahead of a team and have that team come back and tie them, but never get ahead of them," said Yerkovich.
Desert Hills cut Judge's lead to one on three different occasions in the second half, and eventually tied the game at 39-39 with 2:30 remaining on a pair of free throws by Tanner Atkin. Neither team scored again until overtime.
Following a big steal by Zach Myaer with 1:24 remaining in regulation, Judge opted to play for the last shot. The possession resulted in a turnover with four seconds remaining as Myaer's entry pass to Will Whitt sailed out of bounds instead. Desert Hills didn't have enough time to get a quality shot off before the buzzer.
The offensive struggles ended quickly in overtime. Whitt was fouled on the overtime tip-off and quickly gave Judge the 41-39 lead.
"It was pretty interesting how we got to the line off the jump ball, but I thought that was a huge lift," said Myaer.
Judge capitalized on the momentum and extended its lead to 45-41 on a Basil Vetas 3-pointer with 2:55 remaining in overtime. Desert Hills plugged away and trimmed the lead to one possession on several occasions, but each time Judge bumped it back to a four-point lead, including Myaer's two free throws with 14.6 seconds remaining that all but sealed the win for the Region 11 champs.
Myaer finished with 13 points, while Whitt led the way with 14.
Atkin led his team with 18 points, but he was really the only Thunder player who could get much going against Judge's zone as Desert Hills only shot 26 percent from the field.
"If I had to do it again I'd probably play that combination defense again," said Yerkovich. "Against man there were two or three spots where we would've had a hard time matching up. They were just too mobile."