The fact that the Tooele girls basketball team made a rapid ascent from the No. 14 seed in the Class 4A state tournament bracket to No. 9 in the final weeks of the season caught the Buffaloes a little bit by surprise.
Winning seven out of their final eight games certainly helped the Buffs’ cause, as did Ogden’s late-season upset win over Cedar Valley that knocked the Aviators down in the rankings. However, it has also given Tooele a legitimate shot at reaching the tournament’s second week, thanks to a first-round bye and an impending second-round matchup against No. 8 Cedar City on Friday.
“We’re happy with it — for us, it actually was a good draw, I think,” Tooele coach Randy Goss said. “When Ogden beat Cedar Valley, in the region, we moved up to No. 2. That was pretty good for us from where we started out.”
The Buffs (11-10) and Reds (11-10) have already met once this season — a 35-33 Cedar win on the Reds’ home floor on Dec. 29 during the Steve Hodson Cancer Classic. Tooele nearly completed a comeback from a 10-point third-quarter deficit in that contest, outscoring Cedar 16-8 in the final quarter. That loss began a stretch of six defeats in seven games for the Buffs, though they have since caught fire.
“I know we can play with them,” Goss said. “The girls are confident and we’re used to the gym. I think it’s a winnable game for us. I know they’ll be ready, but we’ve been watching film on them.”
While Tooele’s winning ways have gotten the Buffs to this point, it might have been their only loss in the past month — a 55-24 setback on the road against Juan Diego — that might have helped them the most along the way. It caused them to reevaluate where their season was headed, and since then, they’ve won three straight and are allowing just 27 points per game.
“That Juan Diego game was kind of a wake-up call for the girls,” Goss said. “After that one, we had the talk, ‘how are we going to finish out the rest of the season right here?’ You see some teams take a big loss like that, and sometimes it’s hard to bounce back from confidence-wise. Our girls — they have confidence in themselves, especially on the defensive end. I think they’re really bought into our defense, and they know that’s what’s going to win games for us.”
While Tooele is soaring coming into Friday’s game, Cedar has struggled a bit in recent games. The Reds lost three of their last four coming down the stretch, including a loss to crosstown rival Canyon View. Still, Cedar managed to secure a first-round bye and a second-round home game during what many considered to be a rebuilding year for the Reds, considering the number of key players who graduated from last season’s Class 4A state champions.
“They aren’t the Cedar with how many girls they put into college last year,” Goss said. “They were loaded last year.”
Friday’s game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip. The winner will take on No. 1 Pine View or No. 17 Ogden in a state quarterfinal game Monday at 5:50 p.m. at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield.