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Matt Gade, Deseret News
Timpview's Gavin Baxter (25) is fouled going to the basket from behind by Kearns' Sunday Owda (4) as Kearns' Dacraeon Vines (33) is also involved in the play during a game between the Kearns Cougars and Timpview Thunderbirds on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 at Riverton High School.
What I’ve been telling our guys, this is state tournament practice. We’ve got to win four to win it. You’ve got to play mentally tough each night, and each game gets tougher as you go. —Timpview coach Kevin Santiago

RIVERTON — Timpview coach Kevin Santiago couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.

His team’s once-comfortable 17-point lead against Kearns in Monday’s semifinal at the Riverton Holiday Tournament had suddenly vanished as the Cougars trailed by just two with less than five minutes remaining.

Santiago quickly called a timeout.

During those 60 seconds, the first-year Timpview coach tried to paint a quick picture for his players. Imagine it’s the state semifinals at the University of Utah, you’re playing your third game in four nights, you're tired and your opponent has you rattled.

“Now we know what it feels like. Just relax, let the cottonmouth get out of your mouth, drink the water and let’s go play. When it comes state tournament time, this is what it’s going to feel like. Now let’s go,” said Santiago.

That’s exactly what his players did. Timpview responded to Kearns’ furious rally with a flurry of its own, scoring on six straight possessions and regaining a double-digit lead on its way to the 75-62 victory.

The T-Birds will next face Morgan in Tuesday’s championship at 5 p.m., a game Santiago says is another important step for his young, inexperienced team that returns just once starter.

“What I’ve been telling our guys, this is state tournament practice. We’ve got to win four to win it. You’ve got to play mentally tough each night, and each game gets tougher as you go,” said Santiago.

His players have been up to the challenge with consecutive tourney wins over Jordan, Juan Diego and Kearns.

“I think we all know this tournament is a big statement for our team,” said Gabe Reid, who came up huge for Timpview with 17 points and three 3-pointers on Monday.

The T-Birds certainly had to earn that statement.

After a sloppy second and third quarter by Kearns allowed Timpview to build a 46-29 lead, Kearns methodically started to chip away at the deficit, cutting it to 52-39 by the end of the quarter.

Behind some phenomenal shooting by Dacraeon Vines, who finished with 31 points and seven 3-pointers, Kearns continued to claw back into the game, cutting Timpview’s lead to 56-54 with 4:28 remaining.

Santiago thought his players did a poor job attacking the basket during Kearns’ 15-4 run to open the fourth quarter, but that all changed after his timeout.

“I said, ‘Let’s play to win. When we get there, let’s attack the rim.’ When we went back to attacking we got the momentum back,” said Santiago. “We played some really tough teams down in Vegas and they came at us and so we learned some resiliency that guys are going to make runs.”

Luke Sagers and Reid scored on transition layups to increase the lead to 62-56 with 3:24 left in the game, and a minute later Reid provided the dagger on a rainbow 3-pointer to increase the lead to 65-56.

“Coach told us to stay clam, and we just stayed under control and didn’t get rattled,” said Reid, one of three Timpview players who scored in double figures.

Sophomore Gavin Baxter led the way for the T-Birds with 22 points, with David Wright adding 15.

As impressed as Santiago was with Timpview’s offensive execution, he said the defensive commitment to play as a team against a very athletic Kearns squad was equally as important.

“They’re very shifty. If we didn’t have our help-side defense it might’ve been a different game,” said Reid.

In Tuesday’s championship, Timpview will face a much different team than it did in the semis. Morgan won’t have the same length or athleticism that Kearns did, but the Trojans are year in and year out one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the state.