Murray's lack of size didn't prove to be problem
On paper, it looked like a mismatch.
After all, Murray High's biggest starter stood just 6-foot-3, while defending 4A state champion Bountiful boasted a starting front line that goes 6-8, 6-7 and 6-7, along with a guard line that was nearly as tall as the Spartans' tallest rotation player. But as we all know, games are never won on paper. And you can't ever measure the size of determined young men's hearts with a tape measurer. So for four full quarters of Tuesday's state tournament opener, the smaller, quicker Spartans gave the bigger, slower Braves fits.
In fact, the spunky Spartans trailed just twice in the entire game — 55-54 with 30 seconds left, and 58-56 when Bountiful's Zac Seljaas sank a clutch 3-pointer at the final buzzer. Before that, though, the Spartans didn't seem fazed by the Braves' superior size and never backed down from the Region 6 champs, who came into Tuesday's matchup with a 15-game winning streak. Murray led by seven points, 16-9, after the first quarter, and after Bountiful played catch-up throughout the second period, Zach Dickerson drilled a 3-pointer from the corner at the halftime buzzer to give the Spartans a 25-22 lead at intermission. Murray maintained a five-point lead, 41-36, at the end of the third quarter and moved ahead by a 13-point margin, 50-37, with six minutes to go. Down the stretch, though, the Braves' length and strength finally started taking its toll, as Seljaas — who at 6-7 is taller than Murray's biggest guy, but plays guard for Bountiful — scored 16 of his game-high 30 points in the final six minutes and the shorter Spartans simply didn't have an answer for the Braves' towering point guard. Bountiful wound up beating Murray on the backboards by a 34-25 margin, led by the 6-8 Jeff Pollard's 12 boards. He also had two blocked shots for the Braves. And the Spartans, whose undersized lineup relies a lot on its 3-point shooting, managed to make just 6 of 21 (28.6 percent) from beyond the arc. Bountiful was 6 of 15 (40 percent).
Rhees shines in Spanish Fork victory
Spanish Fork coach Jesse Roberts isn’t bashful when it comes to praising his point guard Benson Rhees.
“He’s one of the best point guards in the state,” said Roberts.
It’s tough to argue as Rhees has enjoyed a great senior season. He’s averaged 13.3 points, 3.2 assists and and 2.0 steals this year, and in Tuesday’s win over Roy he scored 18 points and grabbed three steals.
“He’s had about every defense thrown at him that he can have,” said Roberts.
Rhees said the high praise from his coach helps him every time he takes the court.
“It’s nice to know how much confidence he has in me. I’m definitely not the biggest or most athletic point guard in the state, but it’s really nice when I’m on the court to know that my coach has that confidence in me,” said Rhees.
Tuesday’s game was actually Rhees fourth game at the Dee Events Center. Two years ago when Spanish Fork was in 3A, he played in the Dons’ quarterfinal loss to Wasatch and then in two consolation games.
“When he was a sophomore we came here when we were in 3A, and he was a little bit wide-eyed. He’s grown up a lot,” said Rhees.
Kearns full-court press pays dividends
Few, if any, teams statewide can present what Kearns can during sticky situations. A full-court press, buoyed by a surplus of team athleticism, was presented late in the Cougars' 67-59 double-overtime win over Timpanogos Tuesday. The result was an unlikely late comeback in regulation, and a trip to the 4A state quarterfinals.
The press was led by Bushmen Ebet, who had eight steals for the game, including a final steal that wrapped things up for his team in the second overtime period.
"He's led the state two years in a row ... in 4A," said Kearns coach Dan Cosby of Ebet. "He has knack of where the ball is going to be and he's probably one of the best defenders in the state."
Ebet, as good as he is pressuring the ball, is just part of the equation, however. Paired with Tayler Marteliz in the Cougar backcourt, both players can wreck all sorts of havoc for opposing teams when the press is employed.
"it's really Bush (Ebet) and Tayler (Marteliz) and then everyone sort of feeds of that," Cosby said. "But Tayler, he's another guy who knows where the ball is going to be. He has long arms and plays that passing lane. They just have a knack to where that ball is going to be."
Drury pays tribute to 40 years of students
Following Provo’s loss Tuesday in the first round of the 4A state tournament, and after going through the customary handshakes at midcourt, Provo coach Craig Drury made a point to thank Provo’s student section.
“I had to do that. I felt that this student section represents the 40 years of student sections I've worked with. I've been a head coach for 32 years and eight as an assistant. And I just wanted to go over and thank them. It was my way of thanking student bodies for treating me well. I've had good student reactions over the years and I appreciate them,” he said.
Tuesday’s game was Drury’s last after 32 seasons, over 500 victories and eight state championships.
He said the championship games will always be some of his favorite moments as he heads into retirement, “but some of the moments I've had are with teams that finished third and really seeing kids grow up."
Asked about players he’ll remember most, Drury spoke of two kids who passed away a few years after graduation.
"David Liddiard and RJ Staheli. They will always be dear to my heart. Two boys who died soon after they finished playing for me and their pictures hang on my wall. Those boys are always going to be dear to my heart. And after (them) it would be just too many (to name).”
Maple Mountain's Jaren Hall does it in two sports
Junior Jaren Hall, the son of former BYU running back Kalin Hall, is thought to do his best work on the football field. The 6-foot-2 quarterback calls the shots on offense as the team's starter at the position, and helped lead his team to the 4A state playoffs last season.
Turns out he does much of the same on the hardwood.
Hall starts at point guard for the Golden Eagles, a role he's thrived in throughout the season, given his superior athleticism.
"It doesn't matter what Jaren does. He can pick up a tennis racket tomorrow and he's going to be the best tennis player in the school," said Maple Mountain coach Johnny Averett. "He's just such a great athlete."
Hall was relatively quiet in Maple Mountain's 66-55 first-round tournament win over Mountain Crest on Tuesday, scoring just six points, but has played a huge role for his team throughout the regular season.
"He's won a lot of games for us down the stretch," Averett said of Hall, who is committed to sign with the BYU football program. "It took him a few weeks to get into basketball shape, but after the end of December and the first of January, that kid has been dynamite."
Cervantez an unsung hero in Olympus victory
Olympus’ three leading scorers all season, Jake Lindsey, Miles Keller and Isaac Monson, not surprisingly led the way again in Tuesday’s 4A quarterfinal win over East — even though it was tough sledding as they combined to shoot just 32 percent from the field.
It was the play of unsung hero Dominic Cervantez that everyone wanted to talk about after the game.
The little-used senior reserve had only scored 22 points all season, mostly coming off the bench to spot the starters for a minute or two here or there.
On Tuesday, he was on the court throughout the fourth quarter and overtime and delivered some clutch rebounds to help key the 56-49 win.
“(He) hasn’t played a whole lot for me this year, missed last year with a broken leg. He had some great defensive possessions, got two or three offensive rebounds and kept it alive, it was awesome,” Olympus coach Matt Barnes said.
In 22 minutes of action, he finished with five rebounds and led Olympus with three offensive rebounds.
Olympus leading scorer Jake Lindsey had high praise as well for his senior teammate.
“Dom Cervantez especially came off the bench and was awesome tonight,” said Lindsey.