High school boys basketball: Cottonwood beats Cedar Valley in Region 7

Box Score

Cottonwood boys basketball coach Marc Miller admits that he was probably more nervous for Wednesday’s region opener at Cedar Valley than any other game during his four seasons as head coach.

It had everything to do with expectations.

With several key contributors back from last year’s squad that won 15 games, Miller always figured his team would be good this year. But 10-1 in the preseason good? Even he admits that’s exceeded his expectations.

Wednesday represented a new challenge though, the first region game in the Colts’ quest to win a region title for the first time in 15 years.

Turns out Miller had nothing to be nervous about. His players were outstanding defensively all game, limiting Cedar Valley — the team picked to win the region — to just 35% shooting in the statement 62-48 road victory to kick off region play.

Chris Cox scored 19 points to lead Cottonwood, while Jackson Price added 17, but it’s been the collective unselfishness within the team that’s been the key to the overall success.

“We have a well-balanced team and they enjoy playing together. We’ve got shooters, we’ve got rebounders, we’ve got defenders, we have a good mix which we haven’t had. We knew we were going to do well, did we know we were going to do this well, probably not,” said Miller.

Cottonwood never trailed after taking a lead late in the first quarter, stretching it to 28-18 by halftime. It was the fewest points Cedar Valley had scored in a first half this season.

The Colts’ largest lead came with 4:51 left in the game as Max Russo buried his second 3-pointer, increasing the lead to 49-33. Cedar Valley responded with a quick 7-0 run to whittle the deficit to single digits prompting Miller to take a timeout.

He drew up an inbounds play that resulted in a dunk by Aiden Oliphant, and shortly after Kirath Makhar stole the ball and went coast to coast for a lay-up and went up 53-40 for Cottonwood, which iced the game the rest of the way from the foul line.

Miller was impressed with his team’s poise down the stretch, and believes a lot of it has to do with the confidence his team played in winning the Riverton Holiday Tournament during the break. His team beat three 6A teams en route to the title — Kearns, Riverton and Roy — including a win over Roy in the title game.

In the four tourney games Cox averaged 22 points and seven rebounds. The confidence of the 6-foot-7 junior continues to grow every game.

“It’s all confidence with Chris. He was the same player last year but he kind of took a backseat to Noah Widerburg and Robbie Yates the seniors, and kind of let them do their thing,” said Miller. “He’s played enough now at the varsity level to know that teams are going to prepare for him, but he’s a hard guy to guard just because of his length, he can shoot from the outside, he can dribble, he can get to the hole, he can finish. He’s just full of confidence right now, and his teammates believe in him.”

Miller knows Wednesday was just one victory, and winning a region title for the first time since 2007 will require many more victories. Cottonwood shared that region title with Olympus back in 2007 with a 10-4 region record and a 12-9 overall record.

That team bowed out of the state tournament in the first round, just like Cottonwood did last season. The program’s last playoff win came in 2006, but Miller is hoping that as the confidence grows with each victory, playoff wins will follow suit.

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