WEST VALLEY CITY — The Desert Hills and Dixie boys basketball teams are pretty familiar with each other.
That's what happens when schools meet twice a season, every season, and battle the way the Region 9 teams battle.
So by the time the Thunder and the Flyers stepped onto the floor for the 3A semifinal matchup at the Maverik Arena on Friday evening, both had a pretty good idea of the other's capablilities. It almost made sense that the game would not be decided in regulation, or even with an extra period.
What was surprising, however, was that it took an entire extra half, 16 more minutes of basketball, for the Flyers to get the edge, ultimately defeating Desert Hills 79-72 and advancing to the state championship game.
"We just expected" a dogfight, Dixie head coach Ryan Cuff said when asked if he thought the game would be any different than the regular season matchups the Flyers and Thunder split during region play.
"Give total credit to Desert Hills for coming and playing an incredible game," he said. "We have so much respect for them."
A defining moment in the game came with a minute to go in the first overtime. Facing a 54-52 deficit, Desert Hills coach Wade Turley opted to use up fouls to get into the bonus, force Dixie to shoot free throws, and get the ball back with time remaining.
It took four fouls to put Dixie guard Tyler Bennett on the line, where he hit two shots and extended the lead to four with 59.6 seconds left. Going the other way, Desert Hills junior Marcus McKone drew a foul and hit two free throws. Senior Max Mills then stole the ball and found McKone, who was again fouled and again hit two free throws, tying the score, 56-56, and forcing the second overtime.
Almost three minutes later and with the Thunder again looking at a two-point hole, senior forward Quincy Mathews drove the lane only to find Bennett waiting, ready to draw the offensive foul. After using up fouls at the end of the first overtime, Mathews had met the five-foul limit and was forced to watch the final eight minutes from the sideline.
"Quincy Mathews is a heck of a player, we all know that," Cuff said. "For him to go out, that's unfortunate. We want him in there. To be honest, we really wanted him in there."
A dominant player all season for Desert Hills, it would have made sense for the Thunder to fold with their 6-foot-5 senior on the bench. Instead, a handful of other kids continued to play well and kept Desert Hills in the game.
Senior forward Tanner Leishman quickly drew a foul on a putback and then drew another foul and hit the shot for a 3-point-play to tie the score again, 64-64, before blocking a last-second attempt by Dixie to send the game to force the third overtime.
"I thought (Mathews') teammates stepped up and did some incredible things to carry their team along," Cuff said. "I give a lot of credit to their team and their coaches, because it took a lot for him to be sitting on the bench because he's one heck of a player."
Bennett hit a jumper and two free throws and senior Jake Hawes added a free throw to give Dixie five points in the third overtime. McKone hit a 3-pointer from the wing and then Austin Adams scored from the post as the Thunder once again matched the Flyers' moves.
In the final OT, however, the Thunder ran out of legs. Just 17 seconds in, Leishman was called for his fifth foul and Desert Hills was down another key component while the Flyers just kept firing.
Hawes hit both free throws, two of the seven total made on 10 attempts by Dixie in the final four minutes of the game. Meanwhile, McKone hit a long three for the Thunder, but Desert Hills struggled to draw iron otherwise.
McKone finished with a game-high 25 points, was 4-for-6 from beyond the 3-point line, and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Thunder. Mathews had 14 points with seven boards and Leishman totaled 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Bennett had 22 points and finished 8-for-12 from the foul line for Dixie. He also dished out four assists and had three steals in the win. Senior guard RJ Wilgar had 20 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor and Hawks had 18 points and five rebounds.
Of the 37 free throw the Flyers shot as a team, 25 came in the overtime periods. Dixie finished shooting 62.2 percent from the line after hitting 68 percent of its attempts during the extra time.
"As long as we win, I'm OK," said Cuff, whose team has eked out all three games in the state tournament. "I'm proud of our guys that we were able to finish and see what we've got tomorrow."
The Flyers will meet Pine View in the championship at 1 p.m. on Saturday. It is another Region 9 foe, and another team Dixie split with during the regular season. Each team beat the other by a single point.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.