SALT LAKE CITY — After its historic run in the 4A playoffs a year ago, third-seeded Kearns did all it could to recreate its tremendous success from last year in Wednesday's quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Timpview.
However, the Thunderbirds had something different in mind.
After a disappointing exit in last year's 4A quarterfinals, Timpview left everything it had on the court and finished strong to edge Kearns 58-42 and advance to the 4A semifinals at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
“It (last year’s loss) added a lot of motivation for us. It gave us a lot of experience and having that experience with all our starters was huge. For our guys just to keep their cool, come and just play was big for us. We played really tough-nosed defense and I’m really proud of my guys,” Timpview head coach Kevin Santiago said.
Kearns' tremendous athleticism and length seemed to catch the home team off guard as it got off to a smooth start and took a 12-9 lead into the second quarter.
However, with invaluable playoff experience on their side, the Thunderbirds quickly regrouped and decided enough was enough.
“The nerves were there, it’s a different arena and we regrouped really well. For me, I knew the game was ours when we were down early 12-9 and our guys sat down and said, ‘this is our game guys — let’s go,’” Santiago said. “By then the jitters were gone, and that comes from having done it last year. We just played team basketball.”
The home team locked down on defense and forced the visitors into several turnovers to get their offense rolling with an early 6-0 run to start the second quarter.
The Cougars shot just 26 percent in the opening half and, after big man AJ Bolinger got rolling down low, found themselves down 26-22 at the break. Bolinger went 9-of-9 from the field for a team-high 18 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“We were a little nervous at the beginning, but we started playing our basketball and got into a rhythm. They’re crazy athletic and just a very good team. I just used some ball fakes to get around them, they don’t want to jump, and you get what you want,” Bolinger said.
Timpview came out in the third and continued to build upon its lead behind the play of Bolinger and star forward Gavin Baxter, who also finished with 18 points, and led by 12 points with just three minutes left after some key stops and baskets.
Kearns fought back and refused to go away in the final eight minutes as it cut its deficit to just three points with 5:30 left.
However, after a few stops and electrifying plays including a huge alley-oop, the Thunderbirds took all the momentum and soon found themselves capping off the quarter with a dominant 18-7 run to seal the double-digit victory.
“We ran a great play with the alley-oop dunk to give our guys a little juice, got a stop and executed our out-of-bounds play to perfection. Those two plays broke their back. We went dunk, wide-open layup and then got three stops in a row. After that, it was just making our free throws and running out the clock,” said Santiago.
With the win, Timpview advances to the 4A semifinals where it will take on third-seeded Highland Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm at the University of Utah.
“Highland is a really disciplined team. They showed what they are made of playing against Murray. They’re a really good team that just played really under control and took care of the basketball. It makes high school basketball really fun — I’m excited,” Santiago said.
Ryan Love is a full-time student and has been a part-time sportswriter for Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724