Matt Barnes is the eternal optimist.
Even when his Olympus Titans forfeited four games due to playing an ineligible player earlier in the season, dropping the No. 1 seed out of Region 7 to third place, the Titans coach believed his team had the conviction to make a postseason run.
Olympus 65, Highland 50Olympus star Alec Monson scores a game-high 23 and has nine rebounds to help the Titans advance to the 4A semifinals.
And when star Jake Lindsey broke his hand three days before the start of the state tournament, Barnes told his players "come to work every day, live every day" and avoid looking forward to next year because "things change so quick."
Things may have changed drastically for one of the best teams in Class 4A, but Olympus isn’t showing much of an emotional letdown. In fact, the Titans have used the difficult news over the last few weeks to their advantage, and it has them in the 4A semifinals after their 65-50 win over the Highland Rams in the quarterfinals Wednesday evening.
"This has been a special year," Barnes said.
The Titans had four players in double figures, led by senior forward Alec Monson who finished with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds. Guards Spencer Williams (14 points) and Seth Crofts (13 points and seven steals) helped pace Olympus in the win, along with forward Alex Williams, who had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Olympus shot 58 percent in the win and its press defense hampered the Rams throughout the game. Led by Crofts, whose minutes and contributions have increased in the wake of Lindsey’s injury, the Titans handcuffed Highland, as the Rams shot 35 percent from the field.
"[Crofts] surprises a lot of people with how quick he is," Monson said. "He’s short — he’s not that big — but he surprised a lot of guys."
Added Crofts: "Coach just said, ‘Try to stop them.’"
He shadowed Highland shooter Jake Connor, and while the Ram had a team-high 22 points, Crofts’ ability in the press helped the Titans score several easy baskets to keep their early double-digit lead throughout.
"For us to be good and win, we have to play defense, and that’s where it all starts," Barnes said. "And we were terrific that way."
Now comes the matchup high school hoops enthusiasts have been asking for, Barnes said. The Titans face 24-1 No. 1-seeded Bountiful in the 4A semifinals Friday at the Huntsman Center. Monson admitted the pressure of the state tournament is hovering over players, but said if the Titans can play the way they have been, they have a shot.
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