Kearns • Leads in the seven- to 11-point range might not seem a big deal in most cases, but those were good working margins for a Kearns team looking to make a favorable impression in the largest classification.
The Cougars, who moved from Class 4A to 6A this season, twice gave up those kinds of leads against Copper Hills on Tuesday night.
But not the third time.
Kearns broke away from the Grizzlies for good in the last two minutes to earn the 52-42 victory.
“It did feel like a big victory. It made a statement,” Kearns senior Journey Buba said. “Kearns last season, well we had an off season. Copper Hills was one of the good teams last year.”
Buba scored 19 points, including 9 of 13 from the free-throw line, as the defensive-minded player showed he could score as well.
“Journey’s on a mission. He’s a senior, and he wants to carry this team,” Kearns coach Dan Cosby said. “He’s trying to get everyone involved. We’ve just got to keep him playing smart.”
The Cougars (4-0) jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the first quarter before Copper Hills, which made it to the Class 5A state semifinals last year after finishing second in 2015, responded with a 14-1 run that lasted well into the second period.
The Grizzlies led 21-19 at halftime.
“They’re a good team. They’re well-coached and fundamentally sound,” Cosby said. “It’s tough to play here at Kearns.”
Kearns used a 13-4 run to start the third to grab a 32-25 lead when Oscar Gonzales hit a baseline jmper with 40 seconds left in the period.
Then back came Copper Hills, led by Trevon Allfrey’s 14 points and Joe Wilson’s 13. Six straight points by the visitors, capped by a pair of Allfrey free throws, tied the game at 39-39 with 2:43 left.
Buba broke the deadlock with a layup on a sharp feed in the lane from Emmanuel Andrew.
Kearns’ Matt Wickizer followed that by blocking a shot by Allfrey then a Gonzalez score pushed the lead to four. Another turnover, this time with Buba hitting the floor to stop an entry pass to Allfrey, ultimately led to two more Buba free throws and a 45-39 lead with 1:29 remaining.
Andrew finished with 11 points for the Cougars, who played the last couple of minutes without center Major Kuath, who went to the bench with an injured ankle.
“Everybody just started sharing the ball and not being selfish,” Buba said. “Even though one of our best players went out, you just can’t go down because one player is gone. Keep your head up and keep playing.”
KEARNS 52, COPPER HILLS 42
• Kearns breaks away from a 39-39 tie at the 2:43 mark of the fourth with an 8-0 run.
• Senior Journey Buba scores 19 points while junior Emmanuel Andrew adds 11 to lead the Cougars.
• Trevon Allfrey paces Copper Hills with 14 points and Joe Wilson adds 13 for the visitors.