OGDEN — Nothing is a foregone conclusion in sports. Occasionally, the Weber States of the world beat North Carolina, and teams like George Mason advance to the NCAA basketball final four.
But when it comes to Utah high school basketball, nothing is as close to a sure thing as Lone Peak.
Ranked No. 1 in Utah and the country, Lone Peak heads into this week’s 5A state tournament at the Dee Events Center as the overwhelming favorite to three-peat, and with an inside track at claiming the MaxPreps national championship.
“What they’ve done this season is so impressive. How do you not pick them,” said Weber High coach Mark Larsen.
A funny thing, however, will happen at Weber State University this week. Thousands will flock to the Dee Events Center to watch juggernaut Lone Peak knowing full well it will win, yet eagerly cheering for the upset of a decade.
No one knows that more than Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis.
“The thing that makes the (NCAA Tournament) the best sporting event in the U.S. is you’ve got Belmont playing North Carolina, and everyone’s going to root for Belmont,” said Lewis. “On any given night Belmont can beat North Carolina.”
On most nights though, North Carolina will destroy Belmont and that’s what everyone expects out of Lone Peak this week.
Led by a trio of future BYU players, the Knights have put together a 24-1 record and lead 5A in scoring offense (72.4 ppg) and scoring defense (47.1 ppg).
Lone Peak opens the state tournament on Monday against West Jordan at 5:50 p.m., and 5A’s feature attraction will likely be on display again at 4:10 p.m. on Wednesday, 4:10 p.m. on Friday and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Only four teams will be fortunate — or unfortunate — enough to have a shot at upsetting Lone Peak, and Larsen said who wouldn’t want that opportunity.
“Even just the chance to play those guys would be an awesome experience, even if you’re picked to lose by 40. So what. Go on out there and compete with them and see what you’re made of with nothing to lose,” said Larsen, whose Weber Warriors are ranked third in 5A.
That rare opportunity to face the No. 1 team in the country is one of the reasons West Jordan played so well in a play-in victory over Copper Hills last Friday. The Jags weren’t afraid of facing Lone Peak, with the challenge actually serving as extra motivation.
No. 2 Brighton would love another shot at Lone Peak, too.
Despite losing by 30 to Lone Peak in last year’s 5A championship game, and then again by 20 back in late November, the Bengals aren’t intimidated.
“We don’t shy away from the fact that we want to be champions. Our main focus right now is Pleasant Grove (in the first round), but our kids would love another opportunity to play them,” said Brighton coach Jeff Gardner, who didn’t hesitate calling Lone Peak the most dominant team he’s seen in his lifetime.
That potential match-up between the Region 3 and Region 4 champions would come in the semifinals, and Gardner believes his team is playing well enough to get there.
“Anytime you win your region outright is a big accomplishment. We’ve got a good region, and we feel that will be a great preparation for us heading into the state tournament,” said Gardner.
While Lone Peak and Brighton are the favorites to advance to the semifinals in the bottom half of the 5A bracket, the top half is wide open. Weber, Alta, Bingham, Jordan and American Fork are all capable of advancing to the semifinals, while even underdogs Hunter and Syracuse might sneak up on someone with a quarterfinal win.
Weber’s coach believes that if you removed Lone Peak from the 5A equation this year, you could play the state tournament four times and you’d crown four different champions.
After winning the Region 1 title for the first time in 17 years, Larsen believes his team is a contender, but his focus is on West.
“There’s only going to be four teams that play Lone Peak, if you start worrying about Lone Peak you’re going to get knocked out in the quarters or the first round,” said Larsen.
For those who venture to the Dee Events Center this week to watch the greatest show on court, don’t be late. Lone Peak overwhelms teams early.
In 10 Region 4 games this season, Lone Peak’s average lead after the first quarter was 20-8 and its average lead by halftime was 39-18. Don’t expect that trend to change, either, with so much on the line.
The Knights’ strength of schedule is ranked second in the country according to USA Today, and should they take care of business at Weber State this week, it’s hard to imagine them falling from MaxPreps’ No. 1 perch.
And before each game this week, you can bet Lewis will remind his players, “you have to win a state championship to win a national championship.”
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