Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
WEST VALLEY CITY — In the 5A state tournament when playing American Fork opposing teams might need a licensed lumberjack, or at least an array of heavy machinery if they expect to get past the Cavemen's forest-like front-court.
American Fork, resembling a modern day Phi Slama Jama Tuesday evening at the Maverik Center, painfully overwhelmed West with length and athleticism during its convincing 63-40 first-round win.
"All year we've relied on being athletic," said American Fork coach Doug Meacham, whose team improved to 19-2. "I think these guys are excited about climbing the ladder and they know getting that first game is the most important thing."
The Cavemen's starting five: Austin Waddoups (6-1), Marcel Davis (6-3), Quincy Bair (6-5), Zach Hunter (6-4) and Danny Beddes (6-5) all pillar over 6-feet tall. High school team? More like the New York Knicks.
"The most athletic team I've seen," Hunter said after finishing with nine points, five boards and two blocks. "Everyone can jump and roll."
American Fork forced West into committing 21 turnovers and turned them into 28 points. The Cavemen also topped fast-break points, 18-0, and outscored the Panthers, 36-14, in the paint.
It wasn't all run-and-gun in the opening minutes, however. West (5-17) came out intellectually aware of the talent disparity, and deflated the ball. The Panthers, implementing the "Hoosiers Norman Dale Rule" to pass at least four times before taking a shot, soaked up nearly 40 seconds per possession.
"I think they had a great gameplan (to) limit possessions," Meacham said. "We were trying to speed them up a little bit and to have nine turnovers in the first half was killing us."
In total, the Cavemen coughed up the orange 14 times. "We were kind of casual with the ball," stated Meacham.
The combination of superb game-planning by West and careless ball-handling with first round jitters from American Fork kept the margin close after the first eight minutes.
The underlying storyline in the first quarter was Waddoups' foul trouble. The savvy senior picked up his second personal in the waning seconds after he reluctantly fouled West's Gordon Vetas who had picked his cookie-jar at mid-court.
Behind Davis and reserve Morgan Flinders, who knocked down a momentum swinging 3-pointer, there as no slump in production. That allowed Waddoups to peacefully rest on the bench.
Davis, a quiet, humble, hybrid guard, had an answer for every riddle with the ability to finish at the rim, penetrate and dish, but also consistently knock down the 15-foot jumper.
"Marcel is crafty and shifty inside the paint," Meacham said. "He's always looking to try and find the open guy. I like when he changes gears in transition. When he goes from second to third gear it's pretty good."
With Davis' vision, American Fork shot 75 percent in the first half to take a 29-17 lead at the break. The Cavemen finished 26-for-39 from the field.
Davis chipped in a game-high 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting with four dimes, while Bair and Waddoups bucketed 14 and 12, respectively.
Even with the lofty advantage, the Cavemen seemed uncomfortable with the flow throughout the first half.
"We wanted to dictate pace a little bit more," Meacham said. "They came out and did a great job of slowing it down. I think we came out more aggressively defensively and a little bit smarter offensively."
The rhythm changed in the third quarter. American Fork, by extending its defense 94-feet, created flurries of miscues and fast-break opportunities. The second half turned into the Daytona 500.
The Cavemen used a 17-3 run in the third quarter that was capped with two rim-shaking dunks.
Hunter, a Thor-like power forward, tomahawked a one-handed alley-oop before spiking a two-handed slam on the ensuing possession to erase any hope of a West comeback with a 44-20 lead.
Denzel Latu was the lone Panther to reach double figures with 10 points, and Vetas contributed nine more, all at the charity stripe, in the loss.
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