Having beaten Uintah just four days earlier in its regular-season finale, the Tooele boys basketball team came into Tuesday’s first-round Class 4A state tournament game knowing exactly what it wanted to do against the Utes.
The Buffaloes executed their game plan — only better this time around.
Thanks to an excellent defensive effort that limited Uintah to just 17 points through the first 24 minutes of game time, 13th-seeded Tooele cruised to a 59-33 win over the 20th-seeded Utes at Tooele High School to punch their ticket to the second round. The Buffs (13-11) had more points in the third quarter alone than Uintah (4-17) scored in the first three quarters combined, and exceeded the Utes’ point total for the entire game with 12:47 left in the contest.
“Our whole focus was playing that tough defense that we did during the stretch when we took the lead on them last time,” Tooele coach Jed Thomas said. “We came out playing that kind of defense from the beginning. I was pretty happy with that.”
Leading the way for Tooele was senior forward Clay Freeman, who scored a game-high 16 points and earned praise from Thomas for his all-around game. He scored six points in the first quarter as the Buffs built a 16-6 advantage, and he added six more in the third as Tooele’s lead ballooned to 30 points.
“It means a lot to me,” Freeman said. “It’s my senior year and my last year to be able to play (basketball), and I’m glad I was able to win here at home with all my boys. I don’t know how long it’s been, but it was our first playoff win since I’ve been here, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Justin Rogers scored six of his 11 points in the second quarter, helping the Buffs take a 29-12 lead into halftime. Tooele’s momentum carried over into the third quarter, as they outscored Uintah 18-5, powered by a pair of 3-pointers by Canyon Christensen.
That allowed Thomas to rest some of his top scorers in the fourth quarter, and the Buffs’ role players stepped up. Junior guard Trevor Zaleski scored five points and senior guard Braden Hogan hit a 3-pointer down the stretch after the Utes opened the quarter on an 8-0 run.
“We saw them twice during the season and we saw them (Friday) and knew how we played,” Freeman said. “We figured out what we did and what we were doing right and just stuck with it and pushed hard.”
Christensen had eight points for Tooele, while Zaleski and Gavin Ware each had six. Ware and Brandon Vorwaller scored five points each and Tyson Hill scored two.
Josh Speirs was the only Ute in double-figures with 10 points.
The victory means Tooele will hit the road Friday night to face fourth-seeded Cedar City in the second round of the state tournament. The Reds (16-6) finished second in Region 9, though they were beaten by Stansbury 56-43 on Dec. 27 during the Steve Hodson Cancer Classic. However, Cedar City lost only three games the rest of the season after falling to the Stallions.
The Reds are led by 6-foot-7 junior forward Dallin Grant, who averages 14.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Guard Gaige Savage averages 11.1 points and 3.0 assists per contest, while junior Treyton Tebbs averages 10.7 points, sophomore swingman Zab Santana is at 9.7 ppg and 6-foot-8 junior center Luke Armstrong averages 9.5 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“I feel good,” Thomas said. “Our focus is back on defense, and we can get after it defensively. If we do that against Cedar, I think it will put us in position to come away with a victory. They’re good — they have one of the top post prospects in the state down low. They’ve got some solid post play and a couple of pretty good guards. Our strength lies with our posts as well, so I think we match up well with their strengths.”
The winner of the Tooele-Cedar City game will face either No. 12 Desert Hills or No. 5 Pine View in a state quarterfinal game at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 27 at the Dee Events Center on the Weber State University campus in Ogden.