High school basketball: Orem, Bountiful are 4A favorites

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 11:43 p.m. MST

Orem High School defeats Provo High School 82-65 in boy's basketball Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, in Orem, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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WEST VALLEY CITY — The 4A boys state basketball tournament begin Monday at Maverik Center, and although there are sixteen teams vying for the state championship, it's two teams that have emerged as the clear favorites – Orem and Bountiful. As those familiar with the course of these tournaments in year's past can tell you, however, anyone can win it all.

Orem served notice to the state early on this season by defeating defending 5A state champs Lone Peak in the semifinals of the Great Western Shootout. The Tigers went on to lose to 5A favorite West Jordan in the finals of that same tournament, but haven't lost since – finishing the season with a 20-1 record while romping through their Region 8 schedule.

"We set the bar high this year and expected to be in this position entering the playoffs," said Orem coach Golden Holt. "It's just my second year coaching, and most take the approach to take it slow, but I really felt before the year started that we had enough to set the high goal of a state championship."

The Tigers pose a well-rounded lineup led by junior point guard Zach Hunsaker, who leads exciting underclassmen such as sophomore forward Dalton Nixon and junior forward Joe Darger.

Up north, the Bountiful Braves compiled an 18-2 record, which included winning all 10 of its Region 6 games by an average of 19.3 points. The Braves use balanced scoring, led by Brock Yates and Brit Harding.

"We've had some kids that learned how to play really well with each other," said Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell. "They trust each other and they just have to continue with that and I think that we could do well again in the tournament if we continue with that."

Orem vs. Bountiful would make a great state finals game but that won't be the case as both teams are in the same bracket as No. 1 seeds. While it would seem safe to assume that both powerhouse teams would meet in the semifinals, it's far from a forgone conclusion.

Six upset-minded opponents could face the Tigers and Braves, including Timpview, which gave Orem all it could handle in both of their games this season.

"There's so many good teams in our bracket alone," observed Holt. "Bountiful is obviously a great team, but you have teams like Sky View and obviously Timpview and everybody. There won't be any easy games in this tournament, but we're excited as a top seed, excited to have a chance to prove ourselves."

Bountiful is well-versed in playing the upset game, having reached the state finals a year ago as a mere third-seed.

"There is a lot of parity in this state and although we won a lot of games we're well aware that anyone can rise up during the state playoffs," said Maxwell. "I guess we're looked at as a top team and I sort of like better sneaking up on people like we did last year, but it will be a new challenge this year."

In the upper bracket, the two number No. 1 seeds are Mountain Crest and Olympus, which accounted for Bountiful's only losses on the year. The Titans got off to a slow start this season, but ended very strong – winning Region 7. Olympus is led by 6-6 forward Will Cannon, who averaged 15.3 points per game during the regular season.

Mountain Crest comes into the playoffs as hot as anyone in the state, having won its final five games of the year to win Region 5. The Mustangs are led by guard Tyler Crosbie and forward Moroni Laulu-Pututau who average 14.6 and 13.8 points per game, respectively.

Provo is certainly a team that could present some problems for the higher seeds – led by coach Craig Drury, who has certainly been there before. Springville is another team that could sneak up on people as it did against Orem earlier this year – taking the Tigers to overtime before losing 60-53.

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