It was the Ryan and Shawn Show as expected in Saturday's 2A state basketball championship, but the outcome of undefeated Emery's thrilling 84-83 overtime victory over defending champion Richfield really rested in the hands of a pair of unlikely heroes.
The standing-room-only crowd at SUSC's 5,300 seat Centrum was treated to a pair of spectacular individual performances, as Richfield's 6-foot-4 guard Ryan Cuff sliced, diced and shot his way to a 43-point outing, while Shawn Bradley countered with 37 points, 12 rebounds and numerous blocked shots. Even as juniors, the talented twosome are two of Utah's most-sought college recruits--the state's pride and joy, the pair who opposing fans love to hate but will undoubtedly herald as Utah's own once they're gone to NCAA Division I play.However, here's the title game's two unlikely heroes. Richfield's Troy Brown appeared to have the game won for the two-time defending champion Wildcats, canning a pair of free throws for an 83-81 lead with six seconds remaining in overtime. But Emery's Steven Gordon grabbed the inbound pass, knifed between a pair of defenders and banked a 45-foot heave from just inside the midcourt line as time expired for the cardiac-kind of victory.
"I just tried to get the best shot I could," said Gordon as Emery players and fans celebrated the Spartans' first state hoops crown. "It looked good going in."
Of course, the title means job security for Jeffs. The Spartans suffered only two losses last season--one to Richfield and the other to Wasatch in the 2A semis--and the outcry resulted in the firing of Jeffs' predecessor, James Nelson.
Meanwhile, the third time was not a charm for Richfield, which was seeking its third-straight title as well as its first victory in three ties against Emery this season. The combined point-difference in the 19-5 Wilcat's three losses to the Spartans--including last week's 1-pointer in the league tournament--was eight points. No other Emery opponent got closer than eight in a single game.
While Cuff and Bradley both have a year remaining, they won't have to worry each other next year, as the Spartans step up to the 3A classification.
Richfield Coach Dewain Peterson waxed historical about the outcome-historical in a regulation-time sense. "It all goes back to early in the ball game, when you don't execute one or two little things."
-First quarter: Richfield jumps out to a 7-2 lead, with Emery answering with an 11-2 run of its own. But Cuff leads a late-period charge with his driving, leaning, buzzer-beating one-hand pusher down the lane, good for Richfield's 20-18 advantage at the buzzer.
-Second quarter: The lead changes hands five times in the first few minutes, with Emery soon up at 30-25. Cuff combines with senior center Todd Hermansen to spark a 14-5 "Cat surge-including the half's final seven points-for a 39-35 Richfield lead at intermission.
-Third quarter: Bradley comes alive to score 10 of the Spartans 15 points in the period, most on soft, short jumpers. Richfield manages only six points for a 50-45 deficit, as Cuff goes scoreless.
-Fourth quarter: Bradley scores 12 of his team's first 16 points as Emery extends its lead to seven. But Richfield returns to within two, Cuff scoring 17 points in the period. With the 'Cats trailing 71-69 with on a Lynn Tuttle baseline jumper with less than a minute to go. Cuff scores again with 15 seconds left and is fouled, but he misses a potential game-winning chance at the line. Bradley rebounds the miss, gets a pass to him knocked away in the waning seconds, with Cuff a second short of converting on a game-ending fast-break attack. It's 73-all at the end of regulation.
-Overtime: Rather than calling it a draw and splitting the trophy, the 2A title game in essence becomes a three-minute affair. Bradley scores six of Emery's first eight points, as the Spartans lead by four a couple of times. But back-to-back 3-pointers by Cuff knot it at 81-81 with 30 seconds left.
Emery has the ball with 30 seconds left, but Bradley is whistled for an offensive foul with six seconds left giving Brown his appearance at the line.
North Sanpete 59, Hurricane 58:
The Hawks took third-place honors by holding off the Tigers' late-game rally. North Sanpete guards Shawn Osborne and Robert Slack scored 17 and 16, respectively, and combined for six 2-pointers and a half-dozen 3-pointers.
San Juan 72, Wasatch 60:
Jimmy Ray scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in the second quarter, when the Broncos used a 9-0 run to trade a 12-all score at the beginning of the period for a 38-25 margin at intermission. With the win, San Juan claimed fifth place and the consolation-championship trophy.