ST. GEORGE — Dixie slowed down Bear River's top two shooters, and the defensive effort got the Flyers a ticket to the 4A state quarterfinals with Saturday's 64-55 win over the Bears.
Dixie's defense is one of the best, statistically, in the state of Utah, allowing just 48 points a game. But the Flyers had a unique task in the first round of the 4A state playoffs in trying to stop Bear River's Ren Fonnesbeck and Mark Huber. The two sharp-shooters had combined for nearly 100 made 3-pointers on the season.
"All week long we prepared for those two, the shooters," Dixie guard Payton Wilgar said. "We were playing no-catch on them. That was what we wanted to do. We were keeping a close eye on both of those two, trying to contain them."
The strategy worked to perfection as neither guard made a trey and the two were held to a combined seven points on seven free throws.
"We knew how good they were from the perimeter and we knew we had to get stops," Dixie coach Ryan Cuff said. "They weren’t going to beat us from the 3-point line, at least those two were not. So then a couple of other guys hit threes, but we lived with that."
Meanwhile, Dixie's stars were shining plenty bright. Carson Bottema scored a career-high 27 points and Tanner Cuff added 15 as the Flyers grabbed the lead in the second quarter and never trailed after that.
"I just tried to stay calm, cool, collected," Bottema said. "It was a rough game in the first half. You've just got to keep your head at all times. You can’t let yourself get upset and get technicals and start making bad decisions and lose your head."
Even with the intense defense and Bottema's heroics, fourth-seeded Bear River was thinking upset in the first half. Behind Jake Dahle and Parker Coombs, the Bears gutted out a 19-14 lead midway through the second quarter. Dahle's 3-pointer helped Bear River to that advantage, but Dixie had a run of its own coming.
Bottema had a 3-point play and then scored again to tie the game. After a near steal by Dixie, Bear River's bench was assessed a technical foul. Bottema hit the two technical free throws and Dixie surged for seven straight points.
A couple of free throws by Jacob Barben and a bucket by Tanner Cuff just before halftime made it a 27-22 Dixie advantage at intermission.
Bottema and Jace Bennett scored on backdoor passes early in the third as Dixie built the lead up to 11 points at 39-28. The Bears were able to creep within five in the fourth quarter behind the scoring of Coombs and Jacob Olsen, but Bottema hit a big corner trey to push the lead back to eight and the Flyers made their free throws down the stretch to clinch the win.
Barben, a senior guard, came off the bench to make 10 of 11 free throws in the game, including eight straight in the final five minutes.
"I’m just glad that we were able to take care of things and knock down free throws," coach Cuff said. "We shot a great percentage — we had to — from the foul line. Jacob Barben, I think he was 8 for 9 in the fourth quarter."
Dixie, 21-3, made 24 of 31 free throws in the game. The Flyers advance to the state 4A quarterfinals and will play Salem Hills at 12:50 p.m. Thursday afternoon at the UCCU Center on the campus of Utah Valley University. The Flyers have won 10 straight games.
Bear River, which ends the season with a 16-7 record, got 15 points from Olsen and 14 from Coombs. The Bears kept it close by making 16 of 19 free throws in the second half after making just 3 of 9 in the first two quarters.
Andy Griffin is a southern Utah broadcaster and sports writer and has been involved in covering sports in Utah, including professional, college and high school sports, since 1989. Andy is the sports editor at STGNews.com.