OGDEN — Back on the first day of the 4A state tournament, someone in the stands asked Kearns coach Dan Cosby if the Cougars deserved to be in the playoffs.
He was kind of dumbfounded by the question, responding, “what (basketball) have you been watching all year?”
The Cougars may be unlike any other team in Utah, but they play good basketball and are a nightmare to try to keep up with. Logan was the latest team to find that out.
Frustrating the Grizzlies at both ends of the court, Kearns became an unlikely semifinalist of this year’s 4A state tournament as it scraped its way to a 51-48 victory over Logan Thursday night at the Dee Events Center.
“This is big,” said Kearns coach Dan Cosby, fighting back tears.
To his knowledge, Cosby believes Friday’s semifinal appearance against Olympus at 5:50 p.m. will be the school’s first since winning the 1972 state championship.
It was a chaotic game throughout, with Kearns looking great at times and sloppy at others, but that’s OK with Cosby.
“That’s the way we play,” he said. “It’s who we are and that’s who they are in life.”
While some doubted if the Cougars could really compete against the 4A elite, they knew their defense and rebounding gave them a great chance. That proved to be the difference. Kearns forced Logan into 21 turnovers, enjoying a 21-10 edge in points-off turnovers. It also controlled the offensive glass with a 15-6 advantage.
In the final 90 seconds of a game that featured 16 lead changes and 11 ties, rebounding and turnovers played a huge role.
Leading 47-46, Kearns freshman Journey Buba stole the ball and raced for a layup at the other end, giving Kearns the 49-46 advantage with 1:22 remaining.
After the teams swapped empty possessions, Logan cut the deficit to 49-48 as Jaxton Anderson converted a pair of free throws with 40.7 seconds remaining.
Forced to foul, Logan sent Kearns guard Tayler Marteliz to the foul line with 30 seconds remaining for a 1-and-1 situation. Surprisingly he missed, but perhaps not surprisingly, Kearns grabbed its 15th offensive rebound of the game.
Buay Kuajian was immediately fouled, and he sank both free throws, stretching Kearns' lead to 51-48. After early foul trouble, Kuajian scored eight of his team-high 12 points in the second half.
“I had early foul trouble in the first half, coach told me in the locker room, this is your half, you’ve got to step up. As a senior and all, I just stepped and did what I had to do,” said Kuajian.
Logan is one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the state, but Kearns defended the perimeter well all game and that was the difference in the final seconds as the Grizzlies missed a game-tying 3-point attempt.
Kearns mixed up its zone and man defenses throughout the game to keep Logan off-balanced, but in particular to slow Logan leading scorer Tyler Brimhall, who still finished with a game-high 18 points. Nothing came easy all game.
“He’s a great shooter. We just didn’t want him to get hot. So we tried to throw different things at him to keep him off-balanced, just to kind of mix it up. I think teams know we’re going to come in and press them, so we just wanted to mix it up,” said Cosby.
Early in the second quarter, Kearns looked poised to stretch the lead to double digits up 27-19, but Logan settled down offensively, going on a 12-2 run to take a 31-29 lead. After that, neither team led by more than three points the rest of the game.