CEDAR CITY — It is the great equalizer in basketball — the 3-point shot. It has found a home in the 4A classification.
Each of the top seeds in this season’s state tournament made upwards of 130 3-pointers this year, led by Green Canyon with 200 (Orem made 162, Pine View 139 and Juan Diego 130).
Behind those No. 1 seeds, however, were some of the best shooting teams in the state.
Bear River hit 232 3-pointers — a classification-best — while Payson (228), Lehi (178) and Sky View (128) all had considerable success from behind the arc. Even Dixie (120) and Bonneville (114) were not too far behind.
It is for that reason — the prevalence of accurate 3-point shooting — that this year’s state tourney figures to be a complete toss-up.
“I don’t know who the clear-cut favorite is,” Pine View head coach Ryan Eves said. “You are looking at a dog fight, even this weekend. There are definitely going to be some upsets.”
“I’ve seen that (increased 3-point shooting), especially in the north region,” Juan Diego head coach Drew Trost added. “They shoot a ton of threes, and I think upsets are bound to happen because of it.”
“It used to be an extraordinary game when a team made 10 or 12 threes,” Orem head coach Golden Holt said. “That is normal now. If you make less than 10 threes in a game, you had an off night. Team are shooting 20-30 3-pointers, and because of that the 4A classification is wide open. With the shooting capability of some of these teams, I don’t know if they will win it all, but anyone can beat anyone on any given night.”
Interestingly enough, in a tournament where favorites are hard to find, some of the top teams tend to not rely on the 3-point shot.
Take the Soaring Eagle.
Juan Diego, runner-up a year ago, is currently the top-ranked team in the classification. The team earned that ranking on the basis of the top-scoring defense in 4A.
“I definitely think we have built this (program) on defense and we take pride in really frustrating people,” said Trost. “We get up in people, really bother people, and cause turnovers, which lets us get out and run. We spend a lot of time on our defense. You can have off days shooting-wise, but if you play defense you can be good long-term.”
Then there are the Tigers.
Orem boasts the third-best scoring offense in 4A, and while the 3-point shot has certainly played a part, it is an inside-out approach that has carried the team.
“This is the best offensive team I have coached in nine years,” said Holt. “We are averaging close to 80 points a game and we get up to five guys in double-figures usually. We share the ball really well and we have a lot of good basketball players.
“Our recipe is inside, get some twos and ones. I still think you have to have someone who can go inside. That is the sure thing over four games.”
Aiding the Tigers’ cause is the recent return of Puka Nacua.
The Deseret News’ Mr. Football, Nacua was away from the team for much of the year. He returned earlier this week, however, and has hardly missed a beat.
“Puka is an extraordinary boy and extraordinary athlete,” said Holt. “He rejoined the team two games ago and I am glad we waited. He is a tremendous player and he deserves to finish this thing out with his best friends.”
Another would-be favorite, the Pine View Panthers, clinched a region title nearly two weeks ago, and after a subsequent letdown appear primed to make a run.
“We beat Dixie a few weeks ago to clinch the region and then we got a little complacent,” said Eves. “I think we are hungry now, because Desert Hills beat us in the final. That left us with a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths.”
The Panthers have utilized the 3-point shot this year, but it is a balanced scoring attack that has defined them.Comment on this story
“For us it is consistent balanced scoring, it is never one guy,” Eves said. “We ride whoever is having a good game. I mean, we’ve had four out of our top eight guys score 20 points in a game this year. That is good for us. We usually have an answer with another guy.”
Still, even with those would-be favorites, it’s anyone’s tourney.
Sky View has Mason Falslev, arguably the best player in the state. Green Canyon, Payson, Lehi and Bear River each boast some of the best outside shooters in the classification. Bonneville has consistently been a strong out.
All of which is to say, it should be a fun two weeks.
“For fans it’ll be awesome,” said Eves. “For coaches, I’d have a hard believing there aren’t some upsets.”