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High school boys basketball: Dominating the paint, American Fork concludes nonregion play with a win over Kearns

American Fork’s Jaxon Kohler goes to the hoop in a boys basketball game against Kearns in Kearns on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
American Fork’s Jaxon Kohler goes to the hoop in a boys basketball game against Kearns in Kearns on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

As teams begin to conclude nonregion play across the state, carrying momentum into region play is crucial.

American Fork’s 73-58 win Friday evening over Kearns gave the Cavemen the momentum every team hopes to carry into region play.

American Fork’s Jaxon Kohler shined, scoring 29 points while commanding the paint on the offensive side of the court. Kohler’s 6-foot-8 frame proved to be a difficult matchup for a fairly undersized Kearns squad.

Kohler provided the highlight play of the night with an and-one slam dunk early in the first quarter that seemed to set the tone for the Cavemen the rest of the way.

American Fork coach Ryan Cuff said that Kohler’s growth in learning how to play within the team has allowed him to magnify his individual talents.

“Jaxon is understanding the importance of playing together as a team,” Cuff said. “He’s understanding how the game’s coming to him by sharing, being very unselfish, and by finding ways to go get rebounds and play at a high level defensively as well.”

The Cavemen clearly looked to exploit the size advantage from the opening tip, scoring their first 31 points either in the paint or at the free-throw line despite coming off a game against Taylorsville in which the Cavemen hit 12 3-point shots.

“It’s no secret that we want to play through our inside game,” Coach Cuff affirmed. “We all like easier shots, but it also puts us in a position where we can get our outside shooters open as well.”

Despite the size disadvantage, Kearns ensured that nothing was earned easily. The Cougars played with active hands throughout the entire game, forcing American Fork into a plethora of turnovers that often resulted in transition points for the Cougars.

Kearns’ junior Guard Ivrson Lavizzo was often involved in many of the great defensive plays the Cougars made, while another junior, Amare Ames, contributed heavily on offense with 18 points and 3 3-pointers.

Whenever it seemed that the game was going to be taken over by the Cavemen, Kearns consistently made plays to keep the game close through the first three quarters, highlighted by a 7-0 run to start the second half, which made it a one possession game.

However, an 8-0 run by American Fork in the fourth quarter gave it a 15 point lead, dealing Kearns its largest deficit of the night and reaching what would be the final margin of defeat for the Cougars.

Coach Cuff was praiseworthy of the way his team played in the fourth quarter.

“Our guys did a great job of putting together a fourth quarter. We ended up getting some stops defensively and we found ourselves getting to the foul line hitting free throws. You want to be the team that’s going to line at the end, looking up at the scoreboard to see that you’re adding to your score and keeping it from being a close game.”

Following Friday’s result, both Kearns and American Fork will plunge into region play. Kearns faces Granger at home Jan. 12, while American Fork will return home to face Pleasant Grove on Jan. 15.

Cuff says that he and the Cavemen still have a lot to improve on but they are looking forward to the challenge of region play, saying that he expects region play to be a “dogfight.”