ST. GEORGE — With his team down 10 points to Cedar midway through the third quarter Friday night, Hurricane coach Brian Vaifanua called a timeout and did his best to settle his players down.
It had been a sloppy 3A semifinal for his team until that point, but that 10-point deficit was the wake-up call his players needed.
Hurricane methodically clawed back into the game, eventually forcing overtime in the final minute and then making just enough plays in overtime to hold on for the 44-42 victory over rival Cedar at Dixie State College.
"We just never gave up, our team is great at never giving up. Just keep going at it, even when you're down," said Hurricane's Colton Marshall.
With the victory, Hurricane advances to Saturday's 3A state championship against Desert Hills at 1:30 p.m.
Desert Hills and Hurricane split the season series, with Hurricane winning 54-53 at home on Jan. 13 and then Desert Hills returning the favor with a 59-39 win on its home floor on Feb. 8.
"Desert Hills is a great team, we're a great team, it will be a big matchup, it will be fun," said Marshall.
Cedar's largest lead was 30-20 midway through the third quarter, but by the end of the quarter the Tigers had whittled it to 32-28. Cedar maintained its 2-to-4 point lead throughout the fourth quarter, and eventually pushed it to 39-34 on a Kaden Garrett layup with 1:45 remaining.
Hurricane cut it to 39-36 on a layup by Boston Gubler, who came up big again with a blocked shot at the other end of the court. Benson Rich then tied the game on a 3-pointer with 58 seconds remaining, but his runner in the lane at the end of regulation bounced off the rim.
Benson had struggled with his shot, but Vaifanua believed he was in the right spot to take the big 3-pointer.
"Anybody who scouts us is obviously going to do what they need to stop the inside, no brainer, so we tell our perimeter kids to just be in a position to be a threat and if the shot's there take it," he said. "Throughout the course of the year we haven't been real consistent, and it's playoff time, and I'd much rather take shots than turning it over forcing the ball inside."
Four quarters of choppy basketball was, not surprisingly, followed by a choppy overtime. Hurricane took a quick 41-39 lead in the overtime on a Gubler layup, and extended it to 43-39 seven minutes later with a pair of Rich free throws with 30 seconds remaining.
Cedar's Kyler Nielson, who led all scorers with 16 points, responded with a deep 3-pointer to cut it to 43-42 with 20 seconds left. The Redmen caught a break when Hurricane missed three straight free throws at the other end, but they couldn't capitalize as their next possession resulted in a loose ball and then a jump ball with the possession arrow going Hurricane's way with 1.8 seconds left.
"All of their sets were going through (Nielson), and we were really just trying to disrupt the timing of everything," said Vaifanua.
Gubler finished with 15 points for Hurricane, with Rich adding 12.
Cedar was forced to play without starting point guard John Ursua because of disciplinary reasons, but his backup, Trajan Evans, did an admirable job filling in with seven points and a pair of 3-pointers.
"We had some extenuating circumstances that caused people to be in positions they haven't been in all year long. I thought we battled and competed and did everything humanly possible. I love my kids, and I love their effort," said Cedar coach Craig Cardon.
Cedar will face Dixie in the third-place game on Saturday at Pine View High School at 11 a.m.
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