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High school boys basketball: American Fork dominates, snaps Westlake’s 16-game winning streak

SHARE High school boys basketball: American Fork dominates, snaps Westlake’s 16-game winning streak
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American Fork’s Yaw Reener goes to the hoop against Westlake’s Noah Madsen in a boys basketball game in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Box Score

With the 6A state tournament tipping off next week, American Fork’s boys basketball team is far from a finished product.

With that said though, in snapping Westlake’s 16-game winning streak on Tuesday with a resounding 75-59 victory, American Fork made it pretty clear who the 6A favorite in the playoffs will be.

American Fork led nearly the entire game on Tuesday, building a 16-point first quarter lead and then pulling away in the third after Westlake trimmed deficit to five at the half.

In the previous region meeting Westlake rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Cavemen. On Tuesday, coach Ryan Cuff’s team took care of the basketball much better in the fourth quarter to spoil Westlake’s senior night.

“We couldn’t wait to get back and play this game again. We let that game go,” said Cuff.

Cuff will never anoint his team as the favorite, but did acknowledge that his team is much better and more humble than it was earlier in the season.

“I liked a lot of things that we did today, but also there’s a lot of little things we can continue to work on. I’m glad our team hasn’t peaked. Saw signs, but also a lot of work still,” said Cuff.

Junior center Jaxon Kohler dominated the paint scoring a game-high 20 points for American Fork, with Evan Young and Yaw Reneer chipping in with 17 each.

“I felt like all the pressure was on them. I thought that we are a better team we just had to play the right way, and that’s what we did, we shared the ball and we knew what was working. The better team won,” said Kohler, who’s playing in his first year at his neighborhood school American Fork.

He played his freshman year at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant, but wanted to transfer back to American Fork for his sophomore season. UHSAA transfer rules would’ve limited him to playing sub-varsity his sophomore season, so instead he opted to move to Nevada for a year and play or Coronado High School in Henderson.

Kohler, who is one of the top rated junior centers in the country, said he’s grateful for each of his experiences at Wasatch Academy and Coronado, but is very happy to be playing with his friends he grew up playing in grade school.

“I’ve always wanted to come here. I don’t know why it was so hard to just go, but we finally came here. I was so excited,” said Kohler about the decision.

Cuff said one of the biggest things Kohler has improved on throughout the season is playing within the offense and sticking to the game plan, because he said the 6A coaches around the state always do a phenomenal job game planning against elite big men.

“There’s been a lot of growth from him,” said Cuff, who said Kohler has led the team in assists on many occasions as he’s evolved into a great passing big man.

As well as Kohler played against No. 1 Westlake, keeping starting point guard Young on the floor the entire game was realistically the difference.

In the previous meeting Young fouled out at the end of the third quarter, and without his calming presence in the fourth quarter American Fork buckled under Westlake’s pressure in a stunning defeat as it was outscored 28-16 in the final quarter.

For Young, it was a difficult lesson to learn, but watching helplessly from the bench as his team coughed up that previous lead made him realize just how important it is to stay out of foul trouble.

If he does that, and American Fork continues to play the lockdown type of defense it did in the second half against Westlake on Tuesday, it will very difficult to beat during the state tourney.

Region 4 champ Westlake will be one of the top contenders at state as well, and if it finishes better at the rim than it did Tuesday it can certainly compete with anyone, including American Fork if the teams meet again for a third time.