OREM — Watching a buzzer-beater upset and then learning that their toughest region foe was upset at another location might have been interesting news to top-ranked Timpview.
But as they took the floor for their game against Salem Hills, that information may have added to the nerves that naturally accompany the first round of the 4A state basketball tournament.
“As a player, I played in three state tournaments, went to the state championship three times, and the first round is always like this,” said Timpview head coach Kevin Santiago after the T-Birds overcame a slow start to beat Salem Hills 67-55 Monday at UVU’s UCCU Center. “Most of the time you’re going to face a bit of jitters. I thought our guys did well. They were obviously really nervous.”
Playing on a college campus can be an intimidating environment, and then there is the reality that a bad game can end a season.
“We had a few nerves,” said senior Gavin Baxter, who finished with a game-high 16 points and 13 rebounds. “It’s the state tournament. It’s do or die.”
The Skyhawks may have had to win three of their last four games just to earn a berth into the tournament, but they played like they belonged, especially early. When they jumped out to an 8-2 lead, Santiago called a timeout.
“I just said, ‘Relax’,” he said, smiling. “’This is how it feels. You know what to do. We’re here to have fun. At the end of the day, it’s a game. Just get up and down the court and let’s go.’”
The T-Birds’ defense held the Skyhawks scoreless the rest of the quarter while their offense finally found some juice behind the leadership of Baxter and guard Levi Wilson.
“Levi is our engine when we get going on the fast break,” Santiago said. “When he pushes it, and we’re running, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Wilson finished with 11 points, six assists and four steals while Colson Santiago added 11 points and five rebounds. In the second half, the team did a much better job of getting the ball down low to center AJ Bolinger, who finished with 16 points and four rebounds.
“They played tough,” he said of Salem Hills. “They’re a really good team. And I didn’t get the ball much in the first half.”
Once he did, the T-birds ran away with the game.
“Once he started sealing (the defender), they had no answer for him,” Santiago said. “Ten they started collapsing on him, and that’s how we like to play ball – throw it inside, throw it out, shoot a three.”
The Skyhawks were led by Brancen Webster, who scored 13 points, and James Nelson, who added 12 points, and Ben Degraffenried, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds. When asked if the upset were going to make it harder not to look ahead in the tournament, Bolinger said no.
“We’re focusing on Kearns,” he said of their next game. “That’s what we did last year — looked ahead and we lost. So it’s one game at a time.”