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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Orem's #20 Cooper Holt ,right, defends Highland's #10 Taison Manu as the Orem Tigers and the Highland Rams of Idaho play Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 in Orem in the Great Western Shootout. Orem won 62-49.

See more photos from this game here.

OREM — Orem coach Golden Holt bent over backwards to help get this week's inaugural Great Western Shootout up and running. He did so to not only benefit the state, but his own team, too. He wanted to create a playoff atmosphere for his players in December to prepare them for the state tournament in March.

"We're trying to do everything we can to accelerate Orem for championship basketball. This is what we tried to do at this tournament. Win lose or draw at this tournament, just to be here with these teams in this kind of environment is hopefully preparation for March," said Holt.

The Tigers didn't necessarily thrive in the opening round against visiting Highland, Idaho, but they did enough to beat the Rams 62-49 to advance to today's semifinal against Lone Peak.

"We're going to have to play a lot better to beat (Lone Peak) or even be competitive," said Holt.

It's not that 4A's top-ranked Tigers played all that poorly in the wire-to-wire victory, as they made 22-of-24 free throws and shot 46 percent from the field. Rather, it was more of an execution issue.

"We can play a lot better than that. We're trying to get into our motion offense where we have five guys involved, and we're just stuck between taking the quick shot and running our motion offense," said Holt, whose team improved to 5-0 with the victory.

Holt acknowledged that some of the offensive struggles are the product of preseason basketball, but at the same time the players need to trust each other more.

Zach Hunsaker, who scored 13 points and was clutch from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, said the pressure of hosting the tournament contributed to the Tigers committing 17 turnovers on the night.

Eight of those turnovers came in the third quarter in which Orem let Highland (3-3) back in the game.

The Tigers led 29-19 at the half, but when Rams' big man Colton Shreve scored six straight points late in the quarter, Highland found itself only trailing 37-34.

"We like to run early offense, but not at the expense of turnovers. It's kind of a product of what we're trying to do, but we've obviously got to get better at it 'cause if you have more turnovers than points, it's not good coaching," said Holt.

Orem's Cooper Holt responded to Highland's run with a 3-pointer, and then Hunsaker hit a jumper with 18 seconds left to increase the Tigers' lead to 42-34 heading into the fourth quarter.

"We struggled a lot on offense, they slowed us down and did a really good job on defense. Hats off to them, they stopped us," said Hunsaker. "It was the first game of the tournament, we were all nervous."

In the fourth quarter, Orem converted 11-of-13 free throws to pull away for the victory.

Jordan Darger led the way for Orem with 18 points, while Holt chipped in with 10 on a pair of 3-pointers. Highland's Clark Wilkinson led all scorers with 21 points.

Email: jedward@desnews.com