OREM — Kearns guard Nick Valles didn't do a thing he was told to out of the timeout, but the result of his obstinance was something Cougar coaches, players and fans easily approved.
With 5.4 seconds remaining in Kearns' first-round 4A playoff game versus East on Monday, and with the score tied at 48-48, Valles took the inbounds pass near midcourt. He struggled to gain control of the pass initially, but then recovered and let loose a running straightaway jumper about seven feet behind the 3-point line.
As the buzzer sounded, Valles' shot went straight through the net to cap an improbable comeback and lift Kearns to the quarterfinal round.
Valles' teammates ran him down in a frenzy to celebrate a moment Valles won't forget.
“I just feel like crying right now,” Valles said. “As a team we’ve been through so much, you know, and then just to finish it — it feels good.”
As for the play drawn up during Kearns' final timeout, it was designed for someone else.
“We set it up for Tayler (Marteliz), but the ball ended up coming to me and I just finished it off,” Valles explained. “I looked back at the time and did just what I needed to do and got it done.”
So was there any design in the play that allowed for Valles to get the final look?
“Heck no,” said Kearns coach Dan Cosby, with a chuckle. “But Nicky V — he’s a competitor. He made some bad decisions earlier by not listening to the play and then how ironic? He still didn’t listen to the play, but I guess he figured to go ahead and let him win this one for us — couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Valles finished with 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting, but despite any struggles incurred, Cosby had a feeling his junior guard's buzzer-beater would find the bottom of the net.
“Every time he shoots I think it’s going in,” Cosby said. “He’ll go one for ten and it’s like he has ice in his veins — it just doesn’t matter. He’ll go ahead and shoot. …he doesn’t care.”
As for the game's other 39 minutes and 55 seconds, East led throughout, extending its lead to 42-30 at the start of the fourth quarter.
From there the Cougars ramped up their defensive pressure to wreak havoc. An 11-2 run cut the Leopards' lead to 44-41 with just under four minutes remaining. They eventually chipped away at that lead and tied things at 48-48 after Valles forced a jump ball after a missed foul shot with 58.3 seconds remaining.
The Cougars then held the ball until Valles' final shot, using two timeouts along the way to help ensure a quality final shot. The final timeout was called as Valles appeared headed for disaster, appearing a bit out of control with the ball as he drove toward the hoop.
“I know these guys and I know it when they lose their minds for a minute,” Cosby said. “You don’t want to turn it over and give those guys another shot with four seconds left. Anything can happen.”
For Kearns, it's thrived on up-and-down frentic play, a style that took the team to the 4A state championship game a year ago.
“You never know what you’re going to get with us. We’ll be down 20 and the next thing you know it’s a four-point ball game,” Cosby said. “We never give up. We just keep fighting.”
As for Valles, he credited the team's senior leaders for the rally — namely Marteliz and center Kur Kuath.
“(East) got us down, but our two seniors — they kept us up and they kept our heads held high,” Valles said. “We just came together as a team and ended up finishing it off.”
Marteliz finished with six points while Kuath added a team-high 17 points and 14 rebounds.
East was led by Dacian Spotted Elk, who scored a game-high 18 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
With the win, Kearns advances to the quarterfinals on Wednesday to take on Timpview.