TWIR9: Three days to decide a basketball champion

COMMENTARY – It’s come down to the final three days of the basketball season for the high school athletes, with teams from around the state gathering at Southern Utah University’s Centrum Arena Thursday, Friday and Saturday to decide a champion.

Region 9 did pretty well in the first round of the playoffs, with the top two seeds on the boys side (Snow Canyon and Pine View) and the top two seeds on the girls side (Desert Hills and Hurricane) winning easily at home. Along with the blowout victories at home, two of the southern Utah teams, both from Cedar High, captured road wins over the weekend, significant in several ways (which we’ll get to in a minute).

For the boys, the only loss was a tough road defeat by the Desert Hills Thunder, who battled back from a late deficit and a horrid shooting night to force overtime. Unfortunately, the shooting woes and some turnover issues spelled doom in the OT in DH’s 53-43 loss to Bear River. The Thunder had won four in a row before that game, but couldn’t overcome shooting just 25 percent in the game.

For the girls, third-seeded Snow Canyon has struggled late this season, but put together a solid game plan in its first-round game at Stansbury up in Tooele County. Unfortunately, the Lady Warriors came up two points short as a last-second shot caromed off the rim and the Stallions came away with a 42-40 win.

So, for the boys, three of the last eight teams left are Region 9 teams and the same holds true on the girls side. The boys have Snow Canyon (R9-1), Richfield (R12-2), Cedar (R9-4), Juan Diego (R10-2), Pine View (R9-2), Payson (R12-1), Morgan (R10-1) and Bear River (R11-2).

The boys quarterfinal games are Thursday:
9:30 a.m. — Snow Canyon vs. Richfield
11:10 a.m. — Cedar vs. Juan Diego
12:50 p.m. — Pine View vs. Payson
2:30 p.m. — Morgan vs. Bear River
Boys 3A Bracket via UHSAA.org

snow-canyon-smSnow Canyon (15-7, 8-2 in the last 10, beat Ben Lomond 54-37 in first round) — Whether or not SC is one of the favorites depend on how strong one believes Region 9 is. The Warriors lost three region games and squeaked out several other close region games, but if Region 9 is as strong as some believe, all those battles were perfect preparation for the state tournament and the Warriors are strong contenders to win it all. If Region 9 is just an average division in 3A, then SC will struggle with Richfield and have no chance in the state semis and championship. We tend to believe the former. Snow Canyon has a good big man in Nate Gottfredson, plus an excellent secondary big in Hayden Anderson. Jacob Frei provides a slasher and Tanner Sampson is the shooter. SC will go deep.

richfield-smRichfield (14-5, 8-2 in last 10, beat Park City 82-58 in first round) — Richfield practically played a Region 9 schedule in preseason, going 3-3 with wins against Cedar, Hurricane and Canyon View and losses vs. Dixie, Pine View and D-Hills. Now they ‘Cats get a chance at the one Region 9 team they haven’t played, Snow Canyon. Richfield normally stakes its reputation on defense, allowing less than 50 points a game. But the Wildcats are averaging in the 70s their past three games, all wins. Do they have the horses to run with Snow Canyon? We don’t think so. If Richfield doesn’t slow this one down, it will get escorted out of the Centrum before noon Thursday.

cedar-smCedar (14-8, 7-3 in the last 10, beat Grantsville 50-45 in first round) — We saw that win at Grantsville coming and the Redmen are playing great basketball right now. Folks underestimate what it’s like having a transcendent player like Kordan Nielson, who makes everyone on the floor better. Toss in the strength of Dustin Staggs, who is the perfect compliment to Nielson, and Cedar is 3A’s version of Jordan-Pippen or James-Wade. That said, Jordan-Pippen had Steve Kerr and Horace Grant and James-Wade have Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. The gutsy road win at Grantsville did one huge thing in that it allowed the Redmen to play in front of the hometown fans at the Centrum. That is huge. With a somewhat easy quarterfinal game and a home crowd, Cedar’s got to be one of the favorites to go deep into this tourney as well.

juan-diego-smJuan Diego (19-5, 8-2 in last 10, beat Juab 33-31 in first round) — By now, anyone following prep basketball in Utah knows that Juan Diego star Gabe Colosimo broke his leg in the Soaring Eagle’s final regular season game. JD went from contender to also-ran overnight when the lost the dynamic guard, who averaged 21 points a game this year (36 percent of his team’s total points). Sometimes in situations like this, an unexpected hero steps up, but at home the Soaring Eagle barely squeezed by a mediocre Juab team 33-31 Saturday in the first round of the playoffs. Juan Diego is a good defensive team, but there’s no way it holds Cedar below 50, so it’s likely the end of the road for the Colosimo-less Eagle.

Pine-view-smPine View (17-5, 7-3 in last 10, beat Toole 73-58 in first round) — Like Snow Canyon, Pine View’s status as a contender depends on your view of Region 9. The Panthers were the best in the region for the first nine games before stumbling late, but an 8-4 record is impressive if the region is as good as some folks believe. Payson will be a real test. The Panthers did a lot of things against Tooele that they didn’t do in the three-game losing streak, namely rebounding, sharp 3-point shooting and relentless full-court defense. Kody Wilstead and Chaz Peterson are key players, but the Panthers really need the seniors to lead them to the promised land — Jack Bangerter, Ryan Koller and Collin Dowdell. For the record, Pine View may have to beat three region champs to win state (Payson won Region 12, Morgan took Region 10 and Snow Canyon is the Region 9 champ).

payson-smPayson (17-6, 10-0 in last 10, beat Uintah 49-40 in first round) — Last week’s nine-point win was the first non-double-digit win in six weeks for Payson, which dominated Region 12 this season. Payson’s six losses are to four 4A teams and two 5A teams, so the Lions have to be teeming with confidence. Daniel Reno is the big gun at nearly 20 points a game, plus Brycen Wood also hits about two treys a game. The Lions are winners of 10 straight, but one has to wonder why they had such a hard time putting away a pretty bad Uintah team last week. Reno had just eight points in that game. The Payson-Pine View game should be the best match-up of the quarterfinals.

morgan-smMorgan (18-6, 10-0 in last 10, beat North Sanpete 70-52 in first round) — They’re the defending champs, they average 70 points a game and they shoot the heck out of the 3-pointer. Morgan has 154 3-pointers this year, about 7 made per game, tops in 3A. The Trojans are first in the classification in scoring, have won 13 straight, went undefeated in region — heck, they haven’t lost in 2014. Are they invincible? Well, no. It took overtime for them to beat Juan Diego. They struggled twice against Park City. Even last week, against the 4-16 Hawks, it was only 50-46 going into the fourth quarter. But the smart money’s on the Trojans to win it all. The dangerous thing about Morgan is that they have six different guys that could go off on a given night. That’s hard to guard.

bear-river-smBear River — (13-10, 9-1 in last 10, beat Desert Hills 53-43 in first round) — The Bears used a raucous crowd and some deft free throw shooting to get the first-round victory, but will need better than that to beat the Trojans. BR played Morgan in the state championship last season and got whipped by 14. The Bears were never in that game because Morgan did everything the Bears do, only better (run and gun, shoot 3s, press. etc.). So Bear River has committed to playing better defense this year and it’s helped them back to the quarterfinals. But Morgan may be even better than last year and Bear River is not. The Bears had better defend the long ball, something they struggled with last year in the finals. It could be a quick trip for BR in the now single-elimination 3A State Tournament.

The girls have Desert Hills (R9-1), Juab (R12-2), Cedar (R9-4), Carbon (R12-3), Hurricane (R9-2), North Sanpete (R12-1), Morgan (R10-1) and Stansbury (R11-2).

The girls 3A quarterfinal games are Thursday evening:
4:10 p.m. — Desert Hills vs. Juab
5:50 p.m. — Cedar vs. Carbon
7:30 p.m. — Hurricane vs. North Sanpete
9:10 p.m. — Morgan vs. Stansbury
Girls 3A State Tournament bracket via UHSAA.org

Desert-Hills-smDesert Hills (22-1, 10-0 in the last 10, beat Grantsville 83-22 in first round) — The Lady Thunder have been intense, focused and goal-oriented all year and the result has been a plus-30 point differential this season. Unlike Morgan, the other beast in 3A girls hoops, Desert Hills bases its success on the defensive end, with offense as the secondary star. DH has allowed just 36.6 ppg this season, best in 3A. Having a center like Haley Bodnar, who loves blocking shots, and a point guard like Blair Bliss, who is second in 3A in steals at 3.7 per game, really helps. Most people will be shocked if the Thunder aren’t making their third straight attempt at getting that state championship trophy Saturday evening. And maybe the third time’s the charm.

juab-smJuab (11-10, 5-5 in the last 10, beat Union 49-43 in the first round) — The Lady Wasps have been the model of inconsistency this season, never winning more than three games in a row, never losing more than two in a row. Juab did beat North Sanpete in mid-January, but with no post player over 5-foot-10 to combat D-Hills’ Bodnar and Kassidy Cox, well, things could get rough. Juab is not bad defensively, but the Wasps just don’t match up well with Desert Hills.

cedar-smCedar (13-10, 6-4 in last 10, beat Bear River 54-46 in first round) — It could be argued this is the biggest underdog to make it in either the boys or girls quarterfinals, with Cedar knocking off top-seed Bear River from Region 11. But Cedar is actually playing very well right now and has always been dangerous with a bunch of excellent outside shooters. After a nine-point loss to Hurricane on Jan. 16, the Lady Reds were 1-4 in region and facing 0-5 Pine View in a battle to avoid last place. What happened over the next seven games was pretty remarkable as Cedar went 5-2, salvaged the No. 4 seed in region and then knocked off the Bears in the first round. How’d they do it? Mostly Courtney Morley and Javlyn Weaver, but also improved play from teammates Hannah Williams, Shauna Foley, Lisa Ballenger and McKenna Collins, among others. There’s no doubt they can beat Carbon Thursday.

carbon-smCarbon (12-12, 6-4 in the last 10, beat Juan Diego 33-31 in the first round) — The Lady Dinos started fouling JD in the fourth quarter … and it worked as the Soaring Eagle made just 35 percent of its free throws, basically handing Carbon the trip to Cedar for the quarterfinals. Carbon is not a great team, but the Dinos do give maximum effort, as Juan Diego found out when they thought they had the game won.

hurricane-smHurricane (14-8, 7-3 in the last 10, beat Tooele 78-53 in the first round) — The Lady Tigers just exploded in the second half against Tooele and birthday girl Brooklyn Gubler showed she is a legitimate star. Gubler, who is among the leaders in the state in scoring (16.1 pg) and rebounding (7.3 pg), has been an anchor for the Region 9 No. 2 seed. Hurricane also has some good secondary scorers in Madi Hall, London Steglich, Sela Filo and Shania Hurst, so Gubler doesn’t have to carry the whole load. Hurricane lost twice to N. Sanpete in two different preseason tourneys, but there’s an old adage about having to beat a team three times in one season …

north-sanpete-smNorth Sanpete (18-3, 9-1 in the last 10, beat Park City 59-39 in the first round) — The Lady Hawks are the champs of Region 12, allowing just 35.9 ppg in going 7-1 in that region. But the five-team region is notoriously weak in girls basketball and NS did lose a home game to Juab. The glossy record is worth noting, but it’s still hard to get a gauge on how good the Hawks are. They do have a dynamic scorer in Taylor Gordon, who lit Hurricane up for 21 and 25 the previous two meetings. She’s a four-year starter who averages 19 a game. But both Hurricane-N. Sanpete games were close and this one should be as well. It should be a great game, but the winner gets Morgan, so that could temper some enthusiasm.

morgan-smMorgan (21-1, 10-0 in the last 10, beat Richfield 77-30 in first round) — The Lady Trojans average a classification-best 74.2 points a game by pressing all game and by flinging up 3-pointers at any time. Morgan has made 155 3-pointers in 22 games (7.1 per game), an amazing number in high school’s shortened 32-minute games. By comparison, Desert Hills has 78 3-pointers and Morgan’s opponent Thursday, Stansbury, has 52 this season. Like D-Hills, Morgan bases its attack on dynamic scorers and athletic ability. But unlike Desert Hills, Morgan wants to outscore you, rather than stop you. The Trojans run, run, run and Rashel Blazzard, the speedy three-year starter at point guard, makes it all go, averaging 19 points and 5 assists a game. Breanna Hurlbut is her running mate (12.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), but Morgan really doesn’t have much size. In fact, the Trojans also boast no players over six feet tall. That’s why their game is based on a 94-foot attack. Run it and gun it all the way to the finals.

stansbury-smStansbury (15-8, 8-2 in the last 10, beat Snow Canyon 42-40 in the first round) — The Lady Stallions tied for the Region 11 title and have a nice record, but there are signs that not all is well. There’s that blowout loss to Delta and another to North Sanpete. Plus the near loss at home to a slumping Snow Canyon just last week. Stansbury does have some size and some scoring balance, but they don’t have the horses (no pun intended) to run with Morgan.

So there it is. Our gut feeling has Snow Canyon and Morgan in the boys final and Desert Hills and Morgan in the girls final. Confidence factor on the boys side: Shaky at best — we could see Pine View, Cedar or Payson make a run at it. Confidence factor on the girls side: Pretty strong — I don’t know that two teams have ever dominated their regions quite as impressively as Desert Hills and Morgan have dominated theirs this season. It would almost seem a travesty for them to not meet in the state championship. Then again, if someone knocks one of them off, well they deserve it, don’t they?

If you’ve never spent the day at the state tournament, do yourself a favor and play hookey from work Thursday. There’s nothing quite like it. See you there.

 

This Week In Region 9 is written by Andy Griffin and provides a glance at prep sports in Southern Utah. Click the email below for submissions and to provide updates from your favorite sports that we might have missed.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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