It’s the week of weeks for the Lady Buckaroos as they travel to Richfield for what they hope is a lengthy stay.
For those not familiar with the Utah 1A basketball tournament, it is a double elimination format that rewards steady play.
Win and you play another day. Lose and you could be going home before Saturday.
The goal is to stay until Saturday whether it’s in the championship bracket or the consolation bracket.
The Lady Bucks will begin their journey against the Wendover Lady Wildcats Wednesday, February 27 at 5:30 p.m. at Richfield High School.
Monticello (8-13, 5-5) enters the tournament as the number four seed from Region 19. Wendover (16-5, 7-2) finished second in Region 21.
The Lady Bucks will likely start three seniors and two juniors. Senior Tymbr Black leads the team in scoring with 12.3 ppg on 35.4 percent shooting.
On the season, Black scored on 22.7 percent of her three-point shots, making 15.
Senior Tristen Esplin averages 7.5 ppg on 35.2 percent shooting. She too can hit the three and has made 15 on the season, shooting 28.8 percent.
Senior Journey Baird averages 6.0 ppg on 25.9 percent shooting. Baird has made four three-pointers this season, making 17.4 percent of those shot attempts.
Juniors Brooklyn Holt (6.2 ppg), Megan Black (4.8 ppg), and Rianna Shumway (5.0 ppg) will all be key contributors.
Junior Madison Freestone (1.0 ppg) and Sophomore Saydee Adams (1.6 ppg) will also see considerable time in the four-day event.
Wendover’s top contributors are all seniors and as a team they exhibit considerable parity.
At 5'0", senior Angelica Badillo leads the Lady Wildcats, averaging 8.53 ppg with 26 made three-pointers on the season.
Tanya Duran, a 5'7" senior, averages 8.16 ppg and is the Wendover’s most deadly outside shooter, hitting 30 threes on the year. At 5'3", senior Yanely Duenas averages 7.79 ppg and has made 20 threes.
Senior Adriana Delgadillo, 5'10", averages 7.05 ppg and 5'5" senior Diana Solano 6.21 is usually good for 6.21 ppg.
Interestingly, the teams have faced a couple common opponents this season, which are generally fun to compare and contrast but mean little to nothing when trying to predict the outcome of tournament games.
Both teams played Pinnacle with Wendover dumping the Lady Panthers 63-15 in their only meeting and Monticello winning 57-18 and 50-18 in two meetings.
The other common opponent was the Tabiona Lady Tigers, whom Wendover lost to 47-43 and Monticello beat 35-28.
MHS coach Kraig Black’s teams have had good success the past four state tournaments, finishing as high as fourth in both 2016 and 2017. The girls did not place in 2015 and 2018 but won at least one game in each of those tournaments. The girls hope to improve on that this season.
If the Lady Bucks grab a first-round win, they will face either the Rich Lady Rebels (18-4, 6-0) or Water Canyon Lady Wildcats (3-12, 1-9) on Thursday, February 28 at 10 a.m. at the Sevier Valley Center. If they lose, they’ll play either Rich or Water Canyon Thursday at 10 a.m. at Richfield High School.
The boys have also been looking forward to this week all year and, in some cases, their entire high school basketball careers. This should be a fun week in a very wide-open boys tournament.
The 1A top five has been a revolving door all year with teams sliding up, down, and out from week to week.
There are 7-8 teams that, if they get hot and play well, could be hoisting the golden trophy at the end of the week. Monticello is certainly one of those teams.
Coach Esplin’s teams have had great tournament runs the past five-seasons with a 1A state championship in 2014 and a third-place finish the following year in 2015.
His 2016 senior-laden team lost a heartbreaking opening round game but still finished in eighth place. His 2018 team bested that by one spot, placing seventh overall.
This season has seen the Bucks play terrific at times and not so terrific at others, but as stated above, if this team can find consistency and shoot well, they could do very well at this year’s tournament.
The Buckaroos (14-7, 9-1) enter the tournament as Region 19 champions and will face the Water Canyon Wildcats (11-10, 4-8), who finished fifth in Region 20 and had to win a play-in game Saturday, February 23 against Intermountain Christian (ICS) to reach the main field in Richfield.
The Bucks and Wildcats have shared some common opponents. Monticello lost to ICS 59-46 in early December and, as stated above, Water Canyon beat them last Saturday by 10 points.
On the flip-side, Water Canyon struggled to get by Monument Valley 73-68, yet Monticello easily handled the Cougars twice, 77-59 and 73-21.
Monticello beat Region 20’s Piute 60-45 in December and Water Canyon lost to the Thunderbirds twice in region play, 64-59 and 59-49.
One thing of note about the Monticello attack is how balanced the senior-heavy team is. Almost all of the senior starters average double digits in scoring.
The Bucks are led by senior Lucas Hatch, who is averaging 16.4 ppg on 49.8 percent shooting. Hatch also connects on 38.7 percent of his three-point shot attempts and has made 43 on the season.
Senior Spencer Knudsen averages 11.0 ppg on 57.2 percent shooting. Seniors Adam Bunker and Weston Nebeker both average 9.8 ppg on 44.6 percent and 50.6 percent shooting, respectively. Bunker has made 27 three-point shots, connecting on 36 percent of those shots taken.
Senior Taylor Torgerson averages 9.6 ppg on 47.3 percent shooting and has hit the second-most three-pointers on the team. He has scored 28 on an eye-popping shooting percentage of 45.2 percent.
The Bucks’ bench, Monticello’s glaring weakness, consists mainly of junior Dylan Bird (2.3 ppg with six threes) and senior Britton Brewer, who averages 2.0 ppg on 60 percent shooting.
Monticello will need production from the bench if they are going to make a serious run at the title.
Water Canyon also boasts a large contingency of seniors and is one the tallest teams Monticello will face this year.
Senior James Jeffs is the tallest Wildcat at 6'9". He averages 11.20 points per game.
Water Canyon’s top scorer is 6'1" senior Ben Cooke, who scores 13.35 ppg and has made 26 threes on the season. Guy Musser, a 6'2", senior averages 10.05 ppg and has made 39 treys on the season.
Sophomore Joseph Jessop (6'2") averages 8.7 ppg and has made 31 three-point shots. Lastly, 6'4" senior Josh Draper scores at a clip of 8.25 ppg.
A Monticello win would earn a match-up with either Panguitch (15-7, 11-1) or Tintic (8-14, 6-4) at the Sevier Valley Center Thursday at 1 p.m.
A Monticello loss would find the Bucks playing either the Bobcats or Miners on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at Richfield High School.
If you have the time and would like to get out of snowy Monticello for a few days, come to Richfield and support the girls and boys teams.
If you can’t make the trip, tune in to 103.9 KAAJ-LP for complete live coverage of both team’s games Wednesday through Saturday.