COLUMN: The 2013 4A boys basketball tournament was one to remember

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Source: CVDaily Feed
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LOGAN— I just spent four consecutive days watching basketball – something I usually reserve for conference tournaments, or the NCAA tourney – and it was competitive, thrilling, and everything March Madness is supposed to be. I’m not talking about college athletics though, I’m talking about the 4A State basketball tournament, which saw three Cache Valley teams make the final four.

Region 5 was very competitive throughout the season, but it was hard to figure teams out. With multiple starters that had been playing varsity since their sophomore seasons, Mountain Crest emerged as the clear favorite and pulled away from the other valley schools – and the rest of Region 5 – to win the 2013 region championship.

Logan and Sky View’s seasons were certainly more up and down. The Grizzlies had some returning starters and talent, but finished the regular season as a .500 team. They played close game after close game. Sometimes they won them, sometimes they didn’t. Sky View, led by future USU player Jalen Moore, had a lot of talent, but often looked disinterested during the season. The Bobcats finished with a solid overall record, but a sub .500 region record.

All of this led up to an intriguing postseason, which really kicked off with the final day of the regular season. While the Mustangs had the region’s top seed locked up (and Roy was in second), Sky View and Logan entered the evening of Feb. 20, not even sure if they’d make the state tournament or not. With a 3-5 region record, both the Grizzlies and Bobcats were tied with Box Elder. All three teams were in play for the state tournament, but only two would go.

Logan had what appeared to be the easiest route. The Grizzlies were playing region bottom-dweller Bonneville at home. The Lakers had yet to get a win in region, and were losers of 10 straight. Sky View was also at home, but the Bobcats were hosting the Royals – a team they had already lost to once during the season. Finally, Box Elder had to host Mountain Crest. Certainly not the easiest route, but the game was in Brigham City, and the Bees always play the Mustangs tough.

Things were quickly turned on their head. Logan blew a double-digit fourth quarter lead, and eventually lost on a Bonneville layup at the buzzer. Sky View implemented full-court pressure defense – something they attribute as a major key in their championship run – and promptly blasted Roy by 37 points to clinch a spot. Box Elder held a seven point lead over the Mustangs in the fourth quarter as they attempted to claim the final playoff spot. Mountain Crest stormed back, however, and did the Grizzlies a huge favor by eventually winning in overtime.

With Box Elder and Logan both losing, the teams were forced to battle it out the next night in Logan. The Grizzlies built a big lead early, but once again nearly gave it up. They were able to hold on this time though, and advanced to a play-in game against Region 8’s No. 5 team, Provo. For the third time in as many nights, the Grizzlies took the court on Friday, Feb. 22. This time, there was no late-game drama, as Logan blasted the Bulldogs to officially punch their state ticket and set up a game with 4A favorite and defending champion Orem.

That’s when things really get crazy. Riding solid defense and some scorching shooting – especially from beyond the arc – the Grizzlies jumped out early on Orem and held off the Golden Tigers down the stretch in one of the biggest 4A upsets in a long time. Not surprisingly, Mountain Crest coasted past Maple Mountain in round one, but Sky View, behind its newly implemented pressure defense, jumped out to a big lead on Timpview and rolled to a blowout victory.

With all three teams advancing to the quarterfinals, Thursday featured one of the most competitive days of basketball I’ve ever witnessed. Sky View started it off with an incredibly competitive matchup against Olympus. That game turned out to be one of the best high school basketball games I’ve ever seen, with each team throwing haymakers down the stretch as the Bobcats held on for the win.

Similar to Sky View, both Mountain Crest’s and Logan’s quarterfinal games came down to the last couple of possessions. The Mustangs won an ugly 52-47 game against Herriman, while the Grizzlies continued their hot shooting and their Cinderella run with a 66-62 victory over East. Even the middle game of the day between Bountiful and Roy was competitive and came down to the end. Having covered all-day basketball tournaments, even the NCAA tournament, those days can tend to get long. That wasn’t the case with the 4A quarterfinals, as I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

Incredibly, it only got better on Friday in the semifinals. With the Cache Valley students making the trip to Ogden en masse, especially Logan’s “Den on Wheels,” the Dee Events Center was rocking for the first semifinal game between Logan and Mountain Crest. The upstart Grizzlies jumped out to a big early lead and led for the majority of the game. The experienced Mustangs battled back though, and won by three in another thriller, as Logan’s Luke Falk missed a desperation 3-pointer.

Once again, it just got better.

In a battle of future Aggies, Sky View’s Jalen Moore and Bountiful’s Sam Merrill put on a show for the ages. The Braves junior guard carried his team as he dropped a game-high 35 points. However, it was the senior Moore who sent the Events Center crowd into a frenzy and his team to the championship game with a half-court heave that made it all the way to No. 2 on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.

For a writer covering Cache Valley teams, I couldn’t have asked for anything more than an all Cache Valley matchup for the title game. Saturday’s clash – the third of the season between the Bobcats and the Mustangs – lived up to the craziness of the rest of the tournament. Mountain Crest jumped out to an early lead, only to have Sky View tie it up at the half.

Though it didn’t end on a buzzer-beater, it did come down to the final minute with Sky View emerging victorious.

Overall though, the tournament was incredible. The student sections for all three schools were amazing – especially the groups from Logan and Sky View. Blackouts, whiteouts, back-and-forth games, buzzer-beaters, and SportsCenter Top 10 plays. . . As I’m preparing to head to Las Vegas to cover the WAC conference tournament in a couple of weeks, I think it’s going to be hard for that collegiate tournament to deliver what the Utah 4A high school tournament just did.

Even though Sky View emerged with the ultimate prize, it was a great tournament for all of the schools in Cache Valley, and great for the valley as a whole. It is a weekend that I’ll never forget as a sports writer, and that applies even more so to the players and students from the individual schools.

@TheRealTO