ST. GEORGE – Championship teams need to gut out ugly wins, even when they don’t shoot the ball well, if they want to go all the way.
Desert Hills wants to be a championship team and the Thunder took their first step with a low-scoring, poor-shooting, grind-it-out 49-41 victory over Bear River Friday night at the Thunderdome.
“I don’t know why it is, but every time we’re in these first-round games, even when we’re at home, they seem to be a grind,” D-Hills coach Wade Turley said. “The kids wanted it so bad, I think they just rushed it a little bit. But our defense was good. I feel pretty good going forward because I don’t think we’ll shoot this poorly again.”
As the top seed and region champ from southern Utah, the Thunder were heavily favored against the fourth-seeded Bears from Region 11. But Bear River was not intimidated and actually took the lead midway through the third quarter before fading down the stretch.
“Shots weren’t falling tonight, so we just had to find other ways to win,” said DH guard Braxton Porter. “We showed we can do it, even when we’re not having a good night. That’s a good region up there. We respect them. We just had to come out and play hard.”
The Thunder did not trail in the first half and led by as many as eight points, settling for a 23-16 halftime advantage. But the Bears surged at the start of the third quarter, outscoring D-Hills 8-0 over the first 3 1/2 minutes.
Jake Dahle and Kaleb Jensen each hit a 3-pointer and, when Gunner Sorensen scored on a 15-footer with 4:32 to go in the third, upstart Bear River had a 24-23 lead and Turley had to call a timeout.
“I told the guys, ‘OK, they went on their run, it’s time for us to go on ours,'” he said.
Out of the timeout, Cam Clayton took a pass in the corner and hit a wide-open 3-pointer to put the Thunder back on top 26-24. Bear River’s lead, the only one of the night, lasted seven seconds.
The score stayed within one possession until the last second of the third quarter, when Porter canned another corner 3 to push the lead to 34-30 heading into the fourth.
“We were trying to get Logan (Hokanson) an open shot,” Porter said. “Someone swung the ball around to me and I just hit it. I wasn’t worried about the clock. I just heard everyone say ‘Shoot it, shoot it.'”
Desert Hills then started the fourth quarter with six straight points, including mid-range jumpers by Hokanson and Tanner Turley, to complete the 9-0 run and push the lead out to 40-30. Bear River never got closer than six the rest of the way.
“We knew Bear River was going to come in and play hard,” Jacob Mathews said. “Everyone wants to get up to the state tournament. We knew they had nothing to lose and that they were going to give it everything they had.”
The Thunder’s shooting percentages were woeful as D-Hills made just 16 of 51 field goals for 31 percent and 12 of 24 free throws for 50 percent. But rebounding and turnovers were key. The Thunder had 12 offensive boards and committed just seven turnovers to 16 for the Bears.
Hokanson had 17 points to go with four rebounds and five steals. Clayton had eight points and four rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Porter ended up with six points and seven rebounds.
Dahle led Bear River with 15 points and Sorensen had 12, though the Bears also struggled with their shot, going 15 of 37 from the floor for 40 percent. Leading scorer Cole Litchford, who averages 15 points a game, scored just two and had four turnovers while struggling with foul trouble all game.
“I’m not going to put a whole lot into what happened tonight,” Turley said. “We’ll just keep moving forward. I think we’ll play and shoot the ball a lot better next week.”
The Thunder, now 20-4 on the year, advance to the state quarterfinals, where they’ll play Stansbury on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at Utah State University’s Spectrum Arena. The other quarterfinal in the upper bracket has Ridgeline taking on Carbon. The quarterfinal winners meet Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at USU in the semifinals.
Stats: Box Score DHHS (BRHS)-21717
3A STATE BOYS BASKETBALL FIRST ROUND
Desert Hills 49, Bear River 41
Stansbury 44, North Sanpete 43
Ridgeline 72, Hurricane 59
Carbon 54, Tooele 46
Dixie 55, Logan 53
Canyon View 71, Union 47
Richfield 53, Grantsville 41
Juan Diego 47, Pine View 42
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