SALT LAKE CITY — The memories stirred for a year, deep in the background in the minds of the Davis High boys basketball players, providing an extra spark when they needed one.
The memories come from a basketball game a year ago at Weber State’s Dee Events Center, the 6A state semifinals against American Fork.
The Cavemen and their vaunted lineup of Division-I players were floundering. They fouled out one by one. Davis had the game in its grasp against what amounted to a junior varsity lineup.
Some might say the Darts choked, losing 82-80 in triple overtime against a team with just one starter on the floor.
“We for sure have a chip on our shoulder. That stung really bad last year but we try to focus on this year, we gotta keep it going,” Davis senior Trevan Leonhardt said after the Darts’ win at Fremont on Jan. 3.
A year later, the chippiness Davis has possessed all season provided enough of a spark to lift the Darts (23-1) past Lone Peak in an epic 63-61 state semifinal Friday night at the University of Utah.
“It’s a dream come true, man, I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. It’s so awesome,” Davis High senior Spencer Vernon said.
Davis, the top seed in the 6A state tournament, had to fight tooth and nail to take down a 12th-seeded team that, on paper, seemed like would be yet another team to suffer a double-digit loss to the Darts.
But back in November, Layton High head coach Kelby Miller said Lone Peak was a “sleeper” team to win the state championship. He remarked how odd that sounded that such a vaunted program would be considered a sleeper.
Yet here were the 14-10 Knights, 4-6 in their region, in stride with the 22-1 Darts for a chance to go to the state title game.
Lone Peak very nearly had another night for its Cinderella state tournament run. The Knights took an 8-6 lead in the first quarter from a Cameron Brimhall 3 and led, from there, led by between one to seven points for most of the game.
They were the more physical team at first, the more intense team. They moved the ball with purpose on offense, hassled Davis defensively and outrebounded the Darts 26-20, including 13-7 on the offensive end.
“We struggled the whole game really getting boards. They were big and that got ‘em a bunch of good looks,” Vernon said.
Davis finally woke up, so to speak, in the fourth quarter and so did the crowd. The run started with a pair of Dylan Perrenoud free throws, an and-one play from Nick Fisher and a Perrenoud 3 from the men’s college 3-point line to tie the game at 45.
The Darts weren’t done yet. Vernon had a short turnaround shot to give Davis a 47-45 lead. He finished with a game-high 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting after managing double-figure scoring in just five of the previous 11 games.
“We just tried to simplify at halftime and going into the fourth quarter. Let’s quit trying to be something we’re not,” said Davis head coach Chad Sims, whose shirt was noticeably drenched from the team’s locker room celebration.
Jake Sampson nailed a deep 3 to give Davis a five-point lead, then the Darts finished the game at the foul line, hitting 12 of its 13 foul shots in the final frame as the atmosphere hit a fever pitch.
Sampson and Jax Pearce substituted in and out for each other as both played the fourth quarter with four fouls. Sampson scored 15 points and Leonhardt had 10 points with eight assists and three steals.
A crucial third steal came with a 61-58 lead as Lone Peak tried to tie the game. Leonhardt and Pearce blew up a dribble handoff, Leonhardt stole the ball, got fouled and made two free throws to put Davis up five with mere seconds left.
Friday’s semifinal was the first time Davis trailed at halftime of a game in more than two months and just the second time all season it was down at the break.
One has to go back to Dec. 17 when the Darts trailed Pleasant Grove on the road, 25-24, to find the last time they trailed at halftime. They won that game 66-48. Davis was once also tied 29-29 at Layton on Jan. 17 at halftime, which turned out to be the Darts’ only loss of the regular season.
“We haven’t really been down much but that’s the thing that’s so good about our team is we just play team basketball, and we know that the next guy’s gonna step up and make the play,” Vernon said.
No matter who the Darts play in Saturday’s 4 p.m. championship, it will be a team they’ve played twice in region play this year: Fremont or Layton. They beat the Silverwolves twice by double digits and split against Layton.
“Just stick to what we’ve been doing, playing team basketball. That’s what makes us so good,” Vernon said.