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Sarah Thomas
Millie Hammond of Gunnison and Aliesha Houston collide during a fast break. Kanab edged Gunnison 38-37 in the 2A quarterfinals Thursday at SUU.

CEDAR CITY — The Kanab girls basketball team was not expecting its 2A quarterfinal game against Gunnison to come down to the final play.

When the third-seeded team out of Region 13 took a double-digit lead into the halftime locker room, the outlook was pretty positive.

“One of the problems we’re having is we are finding out that we have a hard time playing with a lead,” Kanab head coach Micky Houston said after his daughter Whitney drained a game-winning 3-pointer to give the Cowboys a narrow 38-37 victory over Gunnison on Thursday.

Leading at halftime, Kanab continued building its advantage throughout the third quarter, taking a 31-18 lead into the final period. That's when the Cowboy offense stalled.

“We sat at 33 (points) for six minutes,” Houston said. His team scored a bucket to open the quarter and then went ice cold until Shaylee McDonald hit a free throw with 1:06 left on the clock.

“And we missed how many free throws (in that span)? I bet in the second half we were under 25 percent.”

Kanab made just 2 of 6 free-throw attempts in the final 1:47, which is when the Bulldogs made it a three-point game.

At the 1:37 mark, Gunnison sophomore Josie Grajek hit her first free throw and missed the second. However, Madee Christenson snagged the rebound and put the ball back in to tie the game at 33-33.

That is when McDonald hit her foul shot, followed by teammate Kaitlin Glove, who also hit 1 of 2 freebies, to give the Cowboys a two-point lead before Chansey Caldwell of Gunnison knocked down a 3-pointer to cap a furious Bulldog rally.

“I called the timeout and set the play up — a double picket fence,” Houston said. His team had the ball on the sideline, facing a one-point deficit. There were 10 seconds left.

“I challenged Whitney (Houston)," said Kanab's coach. "That’s my oldest daughter. I can’t ask any more of her. She stepped up and hit a shot to win it for us.”

Whitney Houston received the ball on the wing three steps behind the 3-point line and sunk the game-winner in stride.

“Our offense is 3-point shooting,” Houston said. “I’ve got three girls that have made over 30 3-pointers.”

Whitney Houston finished the game with seven points, four boards and three assists. McDonald and Glover scored 12 points each while the latter also pulled down 14 rebounds.

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Gunnison scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, more than in the other three quarters combined, to take the lead late lead. The Bulldogs were led by Braylie Peterson, who scored 10 points and grabbed four steals, and Christensen, who pulled in eight rebounds.

“Teams in the past, when pressure and adversity hit, we’ve just folded,” Houston said. “This team has got a lot of resolve. They have resilient character.”

Kanab advances to the semifinals for the first time in three years and will play in the 2:30 p.m. timeslot Friday. Gunnison will play at 11:10 a.m. in the consolation bracket. Both games will be played at SUU.

Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. EMAIL: sthomas@desnews.com