Box score

The reigning 6A champion American Fork Cavemen entered last year’s tournament as hunters, needing an upset in nearly every game in order to hoist the trophy in the end.

Now, as 6A’s third seed, American Fork is the hunted, but its players’ mentality has remained the same.

“(Our approach) hasn’t differed at all in this tournament,” American Fork senior JR Turley said. “We’re still the most unselfish team in the state.”

Unselfishness proved to be a key component in the Cavemen’s 57-52 quarterfinal victory over sixth-seeded Fremont Tuesday afternoon. American Fork assisted on 11 of its 16 made field goals and put together a complete defensive performance in order to secure the victory.

Leading for 25 of the game’s 32 minutes, the Cavemen had a firm grip on the game, but faced a late surge from the Silverwolves. Fremont cut a 10-point third quarter deficit to one point with three minutes left in the game.

For the Cavemen, it quickly became a game of defense and free throw shooting, and they excelled in both over the final minutes.

After shooting under 60% from the foul line over the first three quarters, American Fork went 8 for 10 over the final 78 seconds of the game, slamming the door on any potential party-crashing from the Silverwolves.

American Fork head coach Ryan Cuff said that the team’s ability to get to the free throw line and convert — especially late — was the key to victory.

The Cavemen finished the game 21-for-31 from the line, while Fremont was just 2 for 3 from the charity stripe.

“It obviously came down to getting and making free throws,” Cuff said. “We missed some early, but to be able to make 21 free throws — we had a goal to make 20 — was a huge key for us … We did just enough to get a win.”

Turley, who scored nine of his 12 points over the final two minutes in the fourth quarter, went 6 for 6 from the line to help his team close the game out. His other three fourth quarter points came from a crucial corner 3-pointer that extended a 1-point American Fork lead to four.

“All year Coach Cuff has been telling us that free throws are what win games, and we’ve experienced that in other games this season,” Turley said. “We did well late, but as a team collectively, we did a great job the whole game (of getting to the line and making them).” 

Defense, which was the key in their title-winning game last season, was again what allowed the Cavemen to be in control for the majority of the game. American Fork made life difficult for Fremont, which struggled to find any room to breathe in its halfcourt offense.

The Cavemen held Fremont to just 39% shooting for the game, forcing the Silverwolves to take nearly half their shots from well beyond the 3-point line. Fremont finished just 6 for 26 from beyond the arc.

“(Fremont) runs a lot of sets, so we wanted to extend the game and shorten the floor,” Cuff said. “But we just stayed aggressive and, overall, it was just a great team effort. We’re happy our guys have the opportunity to move on.”

The Cavemen were able to slow down Fremont’s top scoring duo of Hunter Hansen and David Calvert, who came into the game averaging 29 combined points per game. The duo combined to score 17 points on 8 for 21 shooting.

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Cuff said that having leadership from senior Ashton Wallace, who started on last year’s championship team, has helped the team bring the same defensive tenacity it brought as a tournament underdog last season. 

Offensively, the Cavemen boasted a balanced attack, like it had throughout the regular season. Junior Tiger Cuff finished with a team-high 14 points as well as a game-high nine rebounds, while Turley and Wallace each chipped in 12 points apiece.

Fremont were led by Treyden Hoggan who scored a game-high 17 points, hitting five of the Silverwolves’ six made 3-pointers.

With its sights now turned to the semifinals, the Cavemen will find themselves as the underdogs for the first time this tournament, as they will face second-seeded Cyprus on Thursday for a chance to return to the 6A championship game.

Cuff said that he expects a battle, especially as his team tries to stop 6A’s top scorer, Quentin Meza.

“They’re a quality team with big-time players,” Cuff said. “We’ll have to prepare ourselves to play our very best, but we’re excited for the opportunity.”