The top-level Timpview Thunderbirds faced off in the semifinals against a neighborhood rival Orem team who entered the tournament as an underdog with a double-digit seed.
The football fans might think they’ve heard this one before, and in a way, they’re right.
No. 7 Timpview trailed for three quarters, but the Thunderbirds ultimately outlasted the No. 14 Tigers in a 47-34 win on Friday to secure a spot in the 5A boys basketball state championship on Saturday.
“We just kept cutting it to two and three and one,” Timpview coach Izzy Ingle said. “Once we could break that barrier and take a lead, we felt like it would give us a little bit of confidence and take some air out of their sails. Once we got that lead, we did a really good job protecting it.”
Senior guard James Rust was a dominant force for Timpview in a low-scoring affair, scoring 19 points on 7-11 shooting, including going 5-5 from the free-throw line.
“Our coach said once we get up, they’ll crumble,” Rust said. “Once we got up one, we all got together, and the momentum swing was unreal.”
Senior guard Taki Uluilakepa finished with just six points for the Thunderbirds, but he importantly went 4-6 from the free-throw line for the game, including 3-5 in the final minutes. As one of Timpview’s players who was on the football team, he kept the Thunderbirds’ emotional intensity high throughout the game against a bitter rival that had gotten the better of them before.
“They got us on our Senior Night,” Uluilakepa said. “Coach told us it would be way worse to end the season than to lose on Senior Night. That was our main thing.”
“It’s such an emotional thing for them,” Ingle said. “(Orem’s) school is, like, four miles from ours. These guys have grown up playing with some of those guys and against them. They’ve been on some of the same travel teams as younger kids. They know each other extremely well. … We knew this was going to be a dogfight.”
Though most of the game was a back-and-forth battle, Orem got an early lead with an 8-0 run in the first quarter, five of which came from Falesi.
Orem crashed the boards hard throughout the first half to a great deal of success, collecting 13 offensive rebounds and scoring 12 second-chance points. At halftime, the Tigers led the rebounding battle by a wide margin, 22-13.
The Tigers started the third quarter on a 6-2 run to get out to a 29-24 lead before Uluilakepa scored his first and only shot from the field. With the Tigers up, 31-26, Timpview scored the last two buckets of the quarter to pull within a point, and that was apparently just the beginning.
Timpview senior guard Eli St. Clair scored the go-ahead basket to get a 32-31 lead, and the Thunderbird crowd went wild. With momentum on their side, the Thunderbirds’ defense became stifling as Orem’s youthful squad went into a panic and forced a lot of rough-looking shots. Orem went without a field goal for nearly the entire fourth quarter as the Thunderbirds pulled away with seven made free throws down the stretch.
True to form, the Timpview student section began a “Just like football!” chant in the final minute.
Timpview will be up against Alta on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. for the title game.