TWIN FALLS • After sleep-walking through a mid-season loss to Kimberly, Buhl redeemed itself with a 19-point rout.
Wednesday evening at the College of Southern Idaho, the Indians left no doubt about its conference supremacy, and did it when it mattered most.
Junior point guard Hayden Eckert led the way in a 14-0 second quarter run that sped up the game well past the point where the Bulldogs could keep pace and Buhl kept going en route to a 63-47 win.
“We had a spurt there in the second quarter where we had some fast breaks,” Buhl head coach Dan Winn said. “A couple of shots went down and we had some separation. That separation told both teams Buhl might be a little bit better.”
The victory clinches a state berth for the defending champion Indians. They cut down the CSI nets afterward, and at the suggestion of junior forward Michael Lively, a piece of the net will go to injured Buhl teenager Lexi Bingham.
Playing to its strengths—and in turn, away from Buhl’s—was what gave Kimberly its 48-45 upset Jan. 14. The Bulldogs slowed the game to a lurch and won with timely shooting. A similar blueprint would be needed to get the neutral court upset Wednesday.
Through the first quarter, the Bulldogs managed to follow that plan, staying patient and moving the ball around the perimeter as long as it needed to until either a lane or a jump shot presented itself.
However, defense was another matter, and the Indians managed to be equally opportunistic and play to their liking when they had the ball. They led by one after the fast quarter, but had the ball left Eckert’s fingertips just a split-second earlier at the buzzer, the lead would have been four.
No matter. Eckert redeemed himself soon enough, hitting a jumper seconds into the second quarter and serving notice of what was to come.
“He’s one of the best point guards in the state,” Winn said. “As a coach, I want to run a structured offense, but in the end, this is about players and you turn a player like that loose. There are times when we don’t look very organized offensively, but you put the ball in that kid’s hands and he does things with the ball.”
Minutes later, the Indians took control, speeding up into a fastbreak attack with Eckert leading the way. Kimberly had to pick its poison, either lock down on
Eckert and leave open his teammates or give the junior the freedom to make plays in the up-tempo offense.
Neither option was good.
“Our entire program right now goes through Michael Lively and Hayden Eckert,” Winn said. “Teams try to take that away, but we’re having other people fill in some spots.”
Buhl had another three-point attempt at the buzzer after the second quarter. This time, it was good, and the Indians led by 15 at the half.
Kimberly finally managed to slow down the game once again in the third, but by then, the damage was done. Even in a plodding, sloppy second half, Kimberly never managed to pull within less than 11.
Timely shooting got it that close, but Buhl’s noticeable size and speed mattered more and more as the game wore on and Kimberly tired out.
“Our main offense is to speed up the ball,” Lively said. “We’re at our best when we run down the floor and get easy layups. Kimberly’s a physical team and they play good defense. The kind of get you out of your groove offensively.”
Eckert led the team with 19 points while Lively had 15, underscoring who these Indians are instead of who is not there.
“We lost a lot when Kasey Crossland got hurt—he’s one of our main scorers—and everybody doubted us because we don’t have a Crossland on the floor anymore,” Lively said. “It’s a big loss, but that just made us push harder in practices and in games.”
Crossland was lost for the season with a football injury while Matt DeKruyf injured his leg as well early in the year. The injury bug struck once more Wednesday as junior forward Tegon Tonge rolled his ankle, but Winn said it does not appear to be a long-term concern.
Kimberly still has a shot at state itself and will compete in a play-in game Saturday afternoon in American Falls.
Meanwhile, Buhl awaits the result of a different play-in game before learning the identity of its first round opponent. No matter who it is, though, the defending champions are now entering familiar territory.
“It kind of feels like last year even though we don’t have the Crosslands,” Eckert said. “We’ll see at state.”
Buhl 63, Kimberly 47
Buhl 63, Kimberly 47
Kimberly 15 7 14 11—47
Buhl 16 21 13 13—63
Brady 12, Martin 2, Wadsworth 20, Wright 11, Diaz 2. Totals: 17 10-11 47.
Eckert 19, Juker 10, Lively 15, Couch 4, Loveless 4, Tonge 4, Elkin 7, Totals: 25 9-13 63.
3-point goals: Kimberly 3 (Wadsworth 2, Wright), Buhl 4 (Eckert 3, Elkin).
Fouls: Kimberly 12, Buhl 10. Fouled out: none.