OREM — Motivational speeches can inspire and certainly did for the Mountain View basketball team, according to senior guard Brigham Bateman.
It was late January and the Bruins were sitting with an 0-5 record in Region 7 play with the playoffs appearing as a very unrealistic possibility. Then, in preparation for a game against Provo, coaches endeavored to put the team's terrible start behind it and to look forward.
“We started the season not too hot, we weren’t really clicking,” Bateman said. “And then after our practice before the Provo game, our coaches took us in the locker room and gave us about a 30 minute motivational speech and I think that changed things."
Mountain View went on to beat the Bulldogs 69-62, but then incurred two straight losses to Timpview and Corner Canyon, although proving very competitive in both contests.
Knowing they had no margin for error after the loss to the Chargers, the players remained confident looking forward to their final four games of the regular season. Four games they ended up winning, dispatching of Alta, Orem, Timpanogos and then Provo again to set up a play-in game with Timpanogos, a game they won 55-51.
“Ever since that Corner Canyon game it’s been lose or go home,” Bateman said.
With that mentality long-established, the first-round of the 4A's single-elimination, was one where the Bruins perhaps held a mental edge going in.
“Confidence wise, yeah,” Mountain View coach Alan Groves said about the late season run helping his team's mentality. “We’re riding a winning streak and the more we can win the more confidence we can get.”
— Brandon Gurney
Orem's Nacua shines in first state tournament game
Despite his young age, Orem point guard Puka Nacua played a huge role in his team's 58-50 victory over Wasatch in the first round of the 4A playoffs.
Nacua, who is just 14 years old and a freshman, got into an early rhythm and finished the night with eight points, nine rebounds and five assists, including a huge dime in the final 1:30 that put his team up by 11, to help Orem hang on to advance to the 4A quarterfinals.
“He’s special. Puka Nacua is 14 years old. He should be in eighth grade — he turns 15 next month. I’ve coached 19 Division I players and a lot of great point guards and players, and at this age, Puka is as good as any of them. He has such a great command of the ball. His command of the ball and his strength is pretty special,” Orem coach Golden Holt said.
The young floor general might just be 14 years old, but he sure doesn't play like it.
Nacua took control from the very first whistle and used his tremendous vision to make a plethora of spectacular passes and spread the wealth around by getting his whole team involved in the win.
With the first-round victory, Nacua and the Tigers are now set to take on top-seeded Olympus in the 4A quarterfinals Wednesday night at the University of Utah.
“You talk about Wasatch and since coming to 4A, that’s their first trip to the playoffs. We’re 9-3 in the last four years in tournament play, so we’ve been here and done it, but so has Olympus. They have some experience and some depth, so they’re right there with Timpview as a favorite. It’ll be a good matchup,” said Holt.
Confident Knell has big first round game
When Woods Cross’ Trevin Knell first took the court for warm-ups prior to his team’s 69-44 victory over Hillcrest in the first round of the 4A playoffs, he knew it was going to be a good day.
“I came out and was feeling it during warm-ups. I thought the hoop looked huge today, so the first time down I came down and shot a pull-up jumper from three and it went in. My confidence level was soaring and my mentality was just to keep shooting — it worked out,” he said.
Boy, did it ever.
Knell came out ready to go, making four of his first eight shots, including three of four from beyond the arc, to give his team control early and entered the half already with 11 points.
And he was just getting warmed up.
The junior forward continued to let it fly in the second half and went on to tack on 12 more points as he finished the night 9 of 15 from the field, including an impressive 4-of-5 from long distance, with a game-high 23 points. He also added eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks to fuel the Wildcats in their first playoff win since 2011.
“He was really excited. I think it was like a career-high in blocks with two, so he was pretty excited about that,” Woods Cross coach Kasey Walkenhurst joked. “He’s getting to become an all-around player. He’s always been a scorer, but he’s starting to get his defense and rebounding where we need it to be.”
— Ryan Love
Patient Baxter leads Timpview to first-round win
OREM – Timpview senior Gavin Baxter may have been a bit nervous at the start of the T-birds first round game, but he quickly relaxed and showed why he's BYU-bound.
"Gav is the best player in the state at our level," Timpview head coach Kevin Santiago said after the T-birds beat Salem Hills 67-55. "He's phenomenal. What you saw from Gavin tonight was a lot of patience. They pushed him out, playing an extended zone. …He's legit. He can play the game."
— Amy Donaldson
Salem Hills reaches goal despite early exit
After not qualifying for the playoffs last year, Salem Hills set a preseason goal to reach the 4A tournament.
"We feel good because we accomplished our goal," said head coach Jim DeGraffenried. "I felt like we had chances in today's game. It was a good opportunity for us to get back in, and hopefully we'll just keep moving from there." — Amy Donaldson
Olympus benefiting from great team chemistry
OGDEN — Olympus coach Matt Barnes has been coaching long enough to know the positive and negative impact team chemistry can have on a basketball team.
This season it’s been nothing but a positive, which was on display for everyone to see at the Dee Events Center in the opening round of the 4A state tournament.
Of the Titans 31 field goals in the 79-49 blowout of Box Elder, a staggering 26 were assists. Miles Keller led the way with 10, with Matt Lindsay adding five and four others recording at least one.
“The big thing I’m always about is chemistry. They have great chemistry, you watch it tonight there was no selfish play, there was sharing the ball and making the passes. They don’t get too high, they don’t get too low they stay very focused. The task at hand,” said Barnes.
That chemistry is exemplified in the stats. Led by Isaac Monson (14.6 ppg), Lindsay (12.5 ppg) and Keller (11.0), the Titans have three players who average in double figures. They also have four players averaging over 2.5 assists.
That balance has made a Olympus a dangerous team this season, a year after it was at times a bit one dimensional with standout Jake Lindsey leading the way with 24.1 ppg.
“Jake was so good and so dynamic last year, but we didn’t have the shooters, the scorers around him which made it easier for teams to try and help and take him away,” said Barnes.
Opponents haven’t had that luxury this season.
— James Edward
Kearns steps up defense to slow East in first-round win
OREM — To get by East you have to limit the production of 6-foot-4 senior guard Dacian Spotted Elk.
That was the thought of Kearns coach Dan Cosby prior to his team’s 51-48 win over the Leopards on Monday.
“We had two things we wanted to get done and we got them done, barely,” Cosby said. “The first was to hold Dacian to under 20 points and then to hold East to under 50 points. If we did both those things then I felt we had a good chance to win the game.”
Holding both Spotted Elk and East to merely two points below the goal was perhaps reflective in the razor-thin margin of the win.
“We weren’t perfect, but we did enough,” Cosby said.
To limit Spotted Elk’s effectiveness Cosby determined to use his two most athletic players to guard him.
“We used Sione (Finau) off the bench, who is really, really quick and then Journey (Buba),” Cosby said. “Sione is mainly a football guy, but he’s so quick and can really frustrate guys defensively and so can Journey, for the same reason.”
Cosby instructed both players to be physical with Spotted Elk and then changed things up when guarding him down the stretch.
“We’d run two guys at him to get the ball out of his hands near the end there,” Cosby explained. “It worked some of the time, but he’s such a good player that it’s hard to completely shut him down. He got some big baskets no matter what we did. But overall I’m happy with how we guarded him and his team.”
Also playing big for the Cougars was 6-foot-7 center Kur Kuath who scored 17 points and hauled in 14 rebounds. He also blocked six shots in what has become a fairly typical outing for the senior.
“He’s done what he did today quite a bit for us, especially toward the end of the season,” Cosby said. “He’s so athletic, and he plays a lot of minutes so he probably gets worn down at the end, but a lot of colleges are missing out to offering him a scholarship. You saw what he could do today and it really is what he almost always gives us. He’s a great player and a great talent.”
— Brandon Gurney
Underdog Payson didn’t lack confidence
At the bottom of Utah County, Payson often goes unnoticed in the high school sports landscape. For that reason, and the fact 4A first-round opponent Corner Canyon won 18 games in the regular season, Payson was clearly the underdog in the 4A opener at the Dee Events Center.
Coach Dan Lunt tried to convey to his players as best he could that records don’t mean anything in a state tournament.
“If you look back at all the state tournaments, I’ve been here a million times, I won’t say that every year the best team wins. I don’t think that happens,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities for what you could call underdog team.”
He was quick to admit he didn’t consider Payson the underdog, but on paper they were.
One of the reasons Payson was confident is Bryce Wiberg.
Payson’s leading scorer missed 10 games with injury this season, Without him on the floor the Lions were 3-7. With him on the floor, including Monday’s win, they are 10-3 and now in the 4A quarterfinals.
Wiberg finished with a game-high 17 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
He ranks fifth in 4A in scoring at 18.1 points and gives Payson a legitimate scoring option every night. He’s a big reason Payson didn’t feel overmatched heading into the first round against a very good Corner Canyon team.
— James Edward
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org