An exotic luau and hula dancers were about all that was missing from Provo's Hawaiian celebration Thursday at the Huntsman Center.
Wanting to avoid a repeat of their scary one-point overtime quarterfinal win against heavy underdog Sky View, the Provo coaches dressed in Hawaiian shirts in hopes of recapturing some luck from the islands for their semifinal game with Olympus.They also had their players watch video of their victory over national power Miami Senior, currently ranked No. 6 by the USA Today, at the prestigious Hawaiian tournament they almost won in December. It was that win that vaulted Provo into the national rankings.
Memories of the near upset and the video might have inspired the Bulldogs, and the shirts certainly added a tropical flavor Thursday. But top-ranked Provo's 75-47 thrashing of the No. 2 Titans had more to do with its stellar defense, 60-percent shooting and big outings from its two stars.
"That's a good performance," said Provo coach Craig Drury, adding that his 21-2 team probably played even better in its two wins over nationally ranked teams at the Iolani Tournament. "When we play that's how we play."
Keeping with the Pacific theme, Hawaii-born Hala Kaufusi erupted on the Titans like an angry volcano. The 6-foot-7 center scored 25 points and hauled in 14 rebounds to help the defending 4A champions return to the finals.
Provo will face the Mountain Crest Mustangs for the title at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Huntsman Center.
Kaufusi said the Sky View game woke him up and showed the Bulldogs that a Utah team could beat them despite their lofty No. 17 national ranking.
"I felt ready to play today," said Kaufusi, who scored just eight points in the win over Sky View. "I told my team that no matter what, we're not losing today."
Oly jumped out to a 7-0 lead and was up by five at the end of the first quarter, but the Bulldogs' killer instinct took over after that.
"After that we kind of hit the wall," said Olympus coach Matt Barnes.
That wall's name? Kaufusi, of course.
He powered Provo to a 36-31 advantage at halftime with a 10-point second quarter.
"Kaufusi just made layup after layup," said Olympus coach Matt Barnes. "He just killed us."
He was as dominating in the second half, when he netted 13 points. Kaufusi swatted a couple of Oly shots, and Provo guard Eric Jackson hit a pair of free throws to wrap up a six-point run three minutes into the second half. That gave the Bulldogs their first double-digit lead, and they steadily pulled away from the cold-shooting Titans after that.
"Mr. Kaufusi's a good player, isn't he?" said Provo coach Craig Drury. "He came out to play today."
Jackson was again clutch for the Bulldogs, finishing with 21 points and five rebounds.
Olympus ended up shooting just 34 percent, including a miserable three-for-18 from beyond the arc. Even steady shooter John Hille struggled to find his range. He scored 21 points but did that on 21 shots.
"John's had a lot of pressure on him. He's done an excellent job carrying us offensively all year," Barnes said. "It was just one of those nights. Provo was just ready."
Hille was just two of nine from 3-point range against Provo's confusing match-up zone defense that forced him to go about 25 feet from the basket to catch the ball each time.
"We said if Hille can beat all five of us, then let him," said Kaufusi. "I guess he couldn't."
Neither could any of the other Titans. And Barnes didn't think the team he used to be an assistant coach for did his current team any favors.
"Sky View woke them up," he said. "They just made them refocus . . . that got their attention."
As did the unfriendly "Aloha" the Titans received on Thursday.
Olympus (21-2), which had its 21-game winning streak snapped, will take on Bountiful for third place on Saturday.
MOUNTAIN CREST 81, BOUNTIFUL 65: Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell was as boggled as he was impressed with Mountain Crest following his team's semifinal loss to the Mustangs.
Maxwell admitted he tried about everything he could think of to slow down the Mustangs. The Braves used a man-to-man defense, a regular zone, a match-up zone, a full-court press, a half-court press . . . and the long list of attempted defenses goes on.
"That was incredible. . . . We threw the kitchen sink at them," said Maxwell, incredulous of the fact that none of the defenses even seemed to bother the Mustangs. "We probably threw 101/2 to 11 defenses at those guys. They just seemed to handle it."
Of course, it's almost an unfair advantage that the Mustangs (19-4) have Tony Brown on their side.
Brown stunned Bountiful by scoring 35 points and drilling six 3-pointers, including a couple that were beyond NBA range.
"Tony's a great player," said Mountain Crest coach John Nielsen. "I've said all along I think he's the best player in the state. Let him square his shoulders and you're in trouble."
Maxwell loved Brown's long-bomb range, but he thought the USU-bound guard did more than just kill the Braves with his scoring.
"He's big-time out there. He's an incredible player," said Maxwell. "He rebounded, he handled the press and made proper decisions."
The Mustangs' other guards - Paul Thatcher and Travis Baldwin - also stayed poised under the pressure.
"Every team that's pressed us this year we've eaten them up," Brown said.
Brown hit four of his treys in the second and third quarters to help open the game up a bit for Mountain Crest. But shortly after he nailed a 25-foot 3-pointer just because Bountiful's defense allowed him to, Brown showed that his dunking skills still need a little fine-tuning.
The 6-foot-4 senior sent the ball skyrocketing in the air off the rim on his one-hand jam attempt midway through the third. Brown quickly redeemed himself by making a jumper on that possession, so he wasn't too embarrassed about missing out on his fourth dunk of the season.
"We got the ball back, so it was all right," he said with a smile.
Brown shrugged off any personal accolades.
"Well I really don't think about being the best player in the state," he said. "I really think about getting our team to the championship, which is what we did tonight."
Bountiful's spunky guard Zach Jacobs scored 20 points for last year's 5A champions who fell to 14-9.
In Thursday's 4A consolation games:
WEBER 63, SKY VIEW 61: Thanks to Jeff Blackett's 30-foot buzzer-beater, the Weber Warriors finally snapped their Huntsman Center curse. The win was Weber's first in eight tries at the U. in the past four years. The Warriors will play Timpview for fifth place on Saturday.
Blackett finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, while Joey Chase threw in 18 points. Trevor Stokes scored 15 for Sky View, which lost its two Huntsman Center games by a total of three points.
TIMPVIEW 56, AMERICAN FORK 55: Ed Pinegar scored 14 and Josh Covey had 13 to lead the balanced Timpview attack. American Fork's Blaine Durrant drilled three 3-pointers and ended with 21 points, and teammate Rod Poulsen added 14 points and 10 boards.