Trip to Richfield begins with a quarterfinal victory over local rivals
The San Juan High School boys basketball team was riding a five-game winning streak when they disembarked their bus to enter the Sevier Valley Center (SVC) for the 3A state tournament on February 25.
The Broncos had also won seven of their last eight games, with their only loss in that stretch coming against local rival, Grand County, on January 27 in Moab. San Juan had beaten the Red Devils just two nights earlier in Blanding.
So after both teams cruised through the qualifying round of the state tourney it seemed appropriate that the familiar foes were set for a third and final meeting on neutral ground in the quarterfinals.
These were truly two good teams. Grand had compiled a 20-3 overall record and were ranked fourth in the state. San Juan peaked at just the right time in the final month of the regular season and had moved up to number five coming into the tournament.
From the opening tip on Thursday in the SVC, it was evident that the teams matched up almost exactly evenly, if one hadn’t already deduced that from studying the statistics from their regular season meetings.
The first quarter bore that out. As the dust cleared on a fast and furious, hard-fought period, the scoreboard read 17-17.
In the second quarter, an early Bronco hero emerged when junior Ladd Ivins splashed four three-point baskets to help his team to an 18-13 edge in the period and a 35-30 halftime lead. Ivins ended up scoring five threes in the first half.
If San Juan was able to maintain their momentum into the second half, they looked poised to take down the number-four seed and set their sights on the state semifinals.
But Grand County made some key halftime defensive adjustments. Bronco Head Coach Travis Black said his boys may have begun to rely on the three-ball too much, and what happened in the third quarter shocked San Juan fans.
The Red Devils shut down San Juan’s long-range shooting and put up a stunning 27 points in the frame, while the Broncos only mustered nine points.
What moments before had seemed like a sure San Juan victory in the making suddenly evaporated into disaster and the Broncos found themselves down 57-44 headed into the fourth quarter.
Most people would have counted them out. But anyone who watched San Juan play this season knew as long as there was still time on the clock, regardless of the score, they were still in the game.
Still, what happened in the fourth quarter was simply stunning. San Juan chipped away at the Grand lead, taking the Red Devils off their game until it was clear they were rattled.
The Broncos got two three-point buckets from Jensen Grover, one from Jayden Black, and one from Ladd Ivins to fuel the rally.
San Juan’s foul shooting, which had zero opportunities in the first half, heated up while Grand began to struggle from the line.
An Ivins free throw gave the Broncos their first lead since the beginning of the third quarter, 62-61, with 2:43 remaining. Grover drained a three moments later, and San Juan had taken firm command.
They kept Grand at arm’s length for the remaining two minutes to close out an improbable 71-67 comeback win. San Juan scored an astounding 13 three-pointers in the victory.
They were outshot from the floor 48 percent to 40 percent but outshot Grand from beyond the arc 43 percent to 24 percent.
The real nail in the coffin was the foul shooting. San Juan was much better, going 16 for 20 in the second half for 80 percent to the Red Devils’ 46 percent.
Ladd Ivins led the Bronco onslaught with 28 points; Jensen Grover had 17; Jace Palmer added eight; and Cooper Black, Jayden Black, and Nate Grover all scored six apiece.