When Judge Memorial coach Sanjin Kolovrat saw his team up by 10 entering the fourth quarter of the 3A state title game Saturday, he was surely confident, but the past two days had taught him not to be in any way comfortable with it.

After all, in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, Judge Memorial had blown second-half leads of 15 and 22 points, respectively.

Yet, when the game was on the line with a minute remaining, just as it had been time and time again in the playoffs, the ball went into senior guard Aaydan Saucedo’s hands.

The next place it found itself was the net as Saucedo drilled a clutch 3-pointer, sealing a successful Cinderella run for the No. 10 Bulldogs as they toppled No. 1 South Summit 65-62 to break a 16-year drought and claim their first 3A state championship since 2008.

“I knew that ball was going in,” Saucedo said. “From the pass, I knew I was going to shoot that ball, and I knew it was going in, and it did.”

That 3-pointer was the 16th one to fall for the Bulldogs, who dominated the perimeter offensively with a 40% shooting clip from beyond the arc, taking an absurd 40 attempts.

Only 12 times in state history had a team taken 40 or more attempts before, and certainly none of them were in a title game.

“The confidence (in shooting) comes from the work that these young men put in,” Kolovrat said. “Aaydan’s the best shooter in the state, I think, for a reason.

“He does a lot of behind-the-scenes work, so we knew if we could get him open, we felt pretty good about it.”

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Judge Memorial never once played as the designated home team through four round of the state tournament, and its journey of giant-killing included upsets of No. 7 Morgan, No. 2 Emery and No. 3 Ogden before it had to topple a giant in a more literal sense, prevailing over the Wildcats and their exceptionally tall lineup uncharacteristic of typical teams.

“We knew it was going to be an uphill battle for us,” Kolovrat said. “A lot of folks, I think, counted us out back when we were 5-12, but these kids are real resilient, and I’m very proud of them.”

In managing South Summit, the Bulldogs went all in on contact, committing 10 fouls in the second half.

Sophomore Aymen Ismail fouled out in the fourth quarter, a strategy quite possibly intentional to allow leading senior scorer JJ Apathjang, who had fouled out of both previous games, the ability to play without committing a single foul while staying on the court nearly the entire game.

“We just wanted to be physical,” Kolovrat said. “If we were going to go down, we wanted to go down swinging and not them do what they want to us with their size.”

Apathjang’s presence in the second half and down the stretch was a massive one for Judge Memorial as he finished with 25 points on 10 of 20 from the field, including a 14-point outburst in the third quarter.

After the game had seen nine lead changes up to midway through the third quarter, Apathjang’s scoring barrage fueled an 11-2 run to close out the period and push the Bulldogs out to a 60-50 lead entering the fourth quarter, which of course meant nothing for them since no previous lead had been safe before then.

“(I told them) just to try to keep (their) foot on the pedal,” Kolovrat said. “We knew. We’d been up 20…and it doesn’t matter in this tournament.”

Just as the teams before them, South Summit came running downhill once the fourth quarter started. The Bulldogs’ 3-point shooting dried up, and the Wildcats desperately clawed back with a 10-0 run over nearly seven minutes of play time.

Wildcats junior forward Logan Woolstenhulme laid out for a game-tying layup within the final two minutes, but on the ensuing possession, the ball went loose and a fracas ensued for possession of the ball. Judge managed barely to secure it, much to the chagrin of Wildcat fans wanting a whistle.

Seconds later, a pass flew to Saucedo near the left corner, and the rest is history.

After an unlikely run, the once-dominant program is back on top, and “it means a lot” to the program, to Kolovrat (who played against the Bulldogs as a Hillcrest Husky in ’08) and to the passionate community surrounding it in downtown Salt Lake City.

“This community is very proud and tight-knit,” Kolovrat said. “I was an outsider who didn’t go to Judge, but it means a lot, and it’s going to mean a lot more in the next couple of days.

“We’re really proud of these guys.”

Aside from Apathjang, Ismail nailed five 3s to finish with 15 points, and Saucedo ended with 11, eight of which came in the second half.

He had all five of Judge’s fourth quarter points.

Woolstenhulme led South Summit with 23 points on 9 of 15 shooting while seniors Gage McKee and Bracken Lassche added 19 and 10 points, respectively.


3A All-Tournament Team

MVP — Aaydan Saucedo, Judge Memorial, Sr.

JJ Apathjang, Judge Memorial, Jr., G

Bracken Lassche, South Summit, Sr., G

Logan Woolstenhulme, South Summit, Jr., F

Miles Barnett, Richfield, Sr., F

Gage McKee, South Summit, Sr., C