AMERICAN FORK — Regular season high school games don't get much bigger than when No. 2-ranked American Fork squares off against No. 3 Pleasant Grove, which they did on Friday. As hoped, the game largely lived up to the hype, with the Vikings able to hold off the hard-charging Cavemen to come away with a 60-55 win in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
Sure, Pleasant Grove led throughout, although American Fork kept it close throughout, leaving Vikings coach Randy McAllister grateful to escape with a win.
"That was a great high school basketball game, wasn't it?," McAllister asked reporters following the game. "The atmosphere in this region has been good every game. Kids are coming out. Fans are coming out, and I think our kids are getting used to that big stage."
Indeed, every game in Region 4 is big, although the rankings suggest Friday's was the biggest yet, with the play on both sides backing up the suggestion.
The game was packed with top players, headlined by American Fork's 6-foot-11 Isaac Johnson, who is headed to Oregon, and Pleasant Grove's 7-foot-4 Matt Van Komen, who is headed to Utah. Both players had minimal impacts in the first half, however, with Johnson being saddled with foul trouble and Van Komen having some trouble with the fast flow of the game.
Picking up the slack for American Fork was guard Trey Stewart, who scored 18 first half points, two of which came via a dunk on Van Komen, to hold the Vikings to just a 36-35 halftime lead, despite Johnson spending most of the half on the bench.
"If he's not on the floor then it's good for us," McAllister said of Johnson. "I don't know how it affected him, but it helped us. … Our kids did a good job of attacking him early and getting a couple of fouls."
Pleasant Grove put its mark on the second half play early, getting off to a 9-0 with Van Komen playing a central role, scoring the first six points while making his presence known on the defensive end.
"Our kids are dialed in this season," McAllister said. "They talk a lot at halftime. We talk a little and the boys talk a lot. They just came out ready to play. We made a couple of adjustments … but other than that it was about the boys on their energy."
Key was shutting down the middle space in the zone, according to McAllister, while limiting Stewart to just two points.
But American Fork didn't go away, as Johnson began to assert himself on both ends, leading the Cavemen back with his extraordinary size and athleticism, cutting the lead to just 52-49 after consecutive made baskets. Pleasant Grove didn't give in, however, managing strong possessions while playing quality defense to force missed shots on the other end to come away with the win.
"Down the stretch, we were able to hold them to just one shot, get the rebound and then force them to foul. So that was huge," McAllister said.3 comments on this story
Controlling things effectively for the Vikings throughout was point guard Kawika Akina, who now appears back in full form after suffering an early season injury which forced him to the sidelines. The senior guard with just six points, but was key in getting good shot opportunities for his teammates.
"He ran a great show tonight," McAllister said of Akina's play.
Leading the scoring for the Vikings was Van Komen, who finished with 16 points, and Casey Brown, who added 13. Stewart finished with 20 for the Cavemen with Tanner Cuff adding 18 and Johnson another nine in limited play.
With the win, Pleasant Grove improves to 17-2 overall and 4-0 in Region 4 play. American Fork drops to 17-2 overall and 3-1 in Region 4 play with the loss.