PRESTON ‑‑‑ Two years ago, the Bobcats definitely felt like they let one slip away in a showdown between two very talented boys basketball teams.
Preston rallied to win that game and dispatched of Rigby (Idaho) the following day to win its annual tournament.
It's fair to say Sky View was hungry to get another shot at Preston and it showed Saturday afternoon. The Bobcats took control in the second quarter and never looked back en route to a 73-59 victory in the championship game of the Preston Indian Classic. In the process, Sky View terminated Preston's 27-game winning streak.
"(Preston head coach) Tyler (Jones) does a great job," SV head coach Kirk Hillyard said. "He runs a great program. He's a great coach. They do a good job up here. They have great kids on their team, and I have a lot of respect for them and what they've been able to accomplish up here. And so to come up here and win at their place ‑‑‑ this is a tough place to win and to play ‑‑‑ so we need to make sure we enjoy it for a couple of days. It was fun. The kids played really hard tonight. We have a lot of dudes and our guys didn't whine about playing time, they just got after it and they played hard, so hats off to them."
The Bobcats (5-1) certainly looked like a team that is capable of making a run to their straight 4A state championship game. Sky View played unselfish basketball Saturday and got after Preston (5-1) defensively. Not only did the Bobcats control the game with their size, they were tenacious on the defensive end of the court at all positions. Case in point: Sky View limited a potent Preston offense to seven points in the second quarter and 21 in the opening half.
"That's definitely our best defensive performance all year that we've had," SV senior post player Evan Hall said. "This is a very high-powered (Preston) offensive team and holding them to (fewer points than normal) was very nice to do. We work on a lot of defensive drills at practice and we really preach playing defense and getting stops, and that was our goal."
The Bobcats, winners of four straight, went on a 17-5 run spanning the first and second quarters to take a 30-19 lead. Five different Bobcats scored during that stretch. It was a balanced offensive attack for Sky View, which had eight players dent the scoreboard in the opening half and nine in the contest.
To the delight of Hillyard, there was no letdown for the Bobcats, who never let their lead dip below 10 points. Preston did claw its way to within 52-42 early in the fourth quarter courtesy of four consecutive points by Braden Hess, but Sky View deftly responded with an 8-2 spurt to essentially slam the door.
Hall, who has come into his own this season, was unstoppable for the visitors. The first-team all-state offensive lineman was the recipient of some good passes, but also showcased his sure hands and a soft shooting touch en route to draining 10 buckets and scoring a game-high 20 points.
"I feel like I've become a really good basketball player," Hall said. "Last year my football coaches kind of challenged me to lose some weight and get a little more active, and doing that's definitely made me a better basketball player."
Taydem Neal shined in the second half as he scored 13 of his 15 points after the break for the Bobcats, who got nine points from Kason Carlsen and eight from Jackson Schumann. Playing three games in three days was invaluable for a Sky View squad that got off to a late start due to its undefeated season on the football field.
"It was nice because it helped us come together as team a little bit because Thursday wasn't our best game, but that's a lot of credit to how hard Marsh Valley played," Hillyard said. "But Thursday wasn't our best game. I thought we got better yesterday (against Twin Falls) and then today, I think we played a full four quarters, and we put it all together today offensively and defensively."
On the flip side, Saturday's game was a valuable learning experience for Preston which, ironically enough, had an impressive winning streak (30) snapped at this tournament a year ago. The Indians went on to prevail in the remainder of their games and captured their fourth state championship in the last five seasons.
"It was a great experience, you know, and they're a great basketball team," PHS head coach Tyler Jones. "And just that size (is tough to deal with). ... Middleton this year, they have a 6-10 and a 6-7 (kid). We play them next week, so this helped us prepare for that a little bit. But (Sky View's) a great team, credit to them. But I liked our kids' effort. We didn't quit. We kept battling and we dug a hole, but we kept fighting and that showed me a lot."
The Indians received another strong effort from guard Gabe Hammons, who shook off a rough first half and scored 15 of his 19 points after the break. Hammons went 10 of 12 from the free throw line and has knocked down 35 of his last 39 freebies.
"He's really taken it on himself to be a leader on our team and score in different ways," Jones said. "He's been able to get to the free throw line, he can hit that mid-range (shot) and the 3-pointer, so he's really improved a lot. Gabe and Cole (Harris), those (two) and Braden, they're our three captains and they'll be big for us this year."
Hess finished with 13 points for Preston, while Harris chipped in with 12.
The Indians were ice cold from the perimeter as they only drained one 3-pointer in the contest. Conversely, the Bobcats buried five treys during the first 10 minutes of action.
"You know, you've got to kind of pick your poison (with Sky View)," Jones said. "We tried to take away the inside and they were hitting (outside) shots ... and that's what good teams do. But we'll get up tomorrow and we'll keep getting better."
Milestone: Jones notched his 200th career victory at the Preston helm in his team's 78-57 triumph over Mountain Crest on Friday. This is his 11th season in charge of the program.
In Saturday's other action at the Preston Indian Classic, Twins Falls beat Mountain Crest 52-40 in the third-place game, Marsh Valley captured the consolation title with a 72-58 triumph over Sugar-Salem, and Bonneville outpointed Star Valley, 70-57, in the seventh-place game. Tanner Bone knocked down a trio of treys and led Mountain Crest (1-5) with 13 points.