WEST VALLEY CITY — With his team down by one and on the brink of elimination with just two seconds left, Dixie head coach Ryan Cuff called a quick timeout and knew exactly what play he was going to run.
With no one guarding the ball, Richard Guymon rifled a pass to RJ Wilgar, who quickly found Tyler Bennett on the right perimeter with just enough space to take a shot, and he knew exactly what he needed to do.
“We run that (play) quite often in practice, and it even works there, so I had confidence in that (play). It has to work perfectly,” Cuff said of the last play.
And boy, did it ever.
Bennett then rose over his defender and calmly drilled the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift his team to a thrilling 43-41 quarterfinal win over Bear River Thursday afternoon.
“I’ve been dreaming about this moment for a long time, and this is the first one I have hit, so it’s pretty awesome,” Bennett said of his late-game heroics. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Neither team could gain control early as both teams struggled offensively, especially in the first half, as Dixie took a two-point advantage at the break with both teams shooting under 37 percent from the field.
Dixie came out in the second half and took slight control in the third quarter to extend its lead to five heading into the final eight minutes.
Bear River, however, was far from throwing in the towel.
In a game with seven lead changes and six tied scores, the Bears came out swinging in the fourth and Bear River’s Walker Riley converted a 3-point play the old-fashioned way with two seconds remaining to take a one-point lead and the game.
Or so it seemed.
“The emotions at that time of course are you can’t quit, just like you don’t want the players to quit when they go back out there,” Cuff said. “They hit a few shots to get back in position to beat us, so credit Bear River … but that’s the game and that’s what we talk about all the time — you never quit, you keep believing and executing.”
And that’s exactly what the Redmen did as Bennett drove a 3-point dagger into the hearts of the Bears to secure the win. Bennett scored 12 of his team’s 14 fourth-quarter points and finished with a game-high 17 points, four rebounds and five dimes in the win.
“Richard came hard with a great pass by RJ and of course it took a lot of confidence from Tyler Bennett to pull up and hit that shot,” added Cuff. “I’m just grateful I still had timeouts left and was able to draw something up. RJ just had to make a really good pass, and Tyler is just a winner. I’m just grateful we have that chance to play again.”
With the win, No. 3 Dixie advances to take on Region 9 rival and No. 2 Desert Hills Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m nervous, but it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Bennett said. “Desert Hills is a really good team, so we’re going to have to come prepared.”
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications and has been a part-time sportswriter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since October 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724