Riverton •Â Timpview forward Gavin Baxter's instinct flared when he caught the ball near the baseline. There was not enough time for the opposition to come back but that mattered little. He bent at the knees and launched into the air.
His descent began after his long arms had reached above the rim, and as he came down he slammed the ball through the hoop. The backboard shook and the crowd stomped.
It was an exclamation mark on Baxter's 22-point performance that took the Thunderbirds over Kearns, 75-62, Monday in the semifinals of the Riverton Holiday Tournament.
The dunk also was a message to his teammates that a game is never over until the final horn blows. Timpview nearly blew a double-digit lead when Dacraeon Vines and the Cougars narrowed it to two in the fourth before the Thunderbirds again widened the gap.
"We just kind of thought we had it, but they didn't go away,"Â Baxter said. "We let them come back but we closed them out at the end. That's happened a couple games at this tournament. We've just got to keep playing until there's no time on the clock. You've got to focus throughout the game."
For a Timpview team that had just one full practice before its first game Â many players were part of the Thunderbirds'Â run to the Class 4A football state title the win was another key step to finding synergy on the court.
On Monday, the Thunderbirds, who went 3-1 at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas before Christmas, showed few ill effects of re-acclimating football players to the hardwood. They knocked down 12 3-pointers and repeatedly worked the ball to the open man on the arc.
"It was a little rough with [the football players] coming back, because they had, like, one practice, but we just work hard,"Â Baxter said. "They're back and they're playing good."
After Kearns got the Timpview lead to two, the Thunderbirds came out of a timeout and reeled off a quick run. It finally put the game out of reach, staving off an electric performance from Vines, who finished with 31 points.
"We just tried to play as a team more,"Â Baxter said. "We're just getting better as we play more because we're kind of rebuilding our team this year. It takes time to get everything straight and play well. I think we're doing that."