The last time Cedar took on Union, the Reds dominated in a 17-point blowout at the Steve Hodson Cancer Classic on Dec. 27.
On Friday, almost two months later in the first round of the 3A playoffs, Cedar took down the Cougars in eerily similar fashion, winning a hard-fought contest at home 58-41 — or 17 points.
History does indeed repeat itself.
The Reds, who made it all the way to the 3A semifinals last season only to lose to Hurricane by two points, move onto the next round against Morgan, set for tip-off at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday at Weber State.
Despite a slightly rocky first half, Cedar catapulted over Union utilizing much of what was sorely lacking from its team in the last part of the regular season when the Redmen won just two games out of their last six — scrappy, hard-nosed defense combined with aggressive offensive play.
“It’s always been about aggression,” said Kordan Nielson who finished with a team-high 14 points, including three 3-pointers. “Everyone needs to be aggressive and shoot their shots. Coach (Craig Cardon) calls plays for shooters. Tonight we took the shots and they went in.”
Cedar exploded out of the gate early for a 13-2 lead off a pair of treys from Nielson and Dason Coronado (7 points).
Then, it was as if someone sealed a lid over the home team’s hoop.
The Reds didn’t score again until the 5:45 mark in the second quarter nearly 10 minutes later. By that time, Union had caught up and would eventually tie the game at 15 with three minutes remaining in the half.
“We came out fast, but kind of went cold,” was all center Dustin Staggs (11 points, 8 rebounds) could say about the drought.
It wasn’t that Cedar wasn’t trying. On numerous occasions the Reds stole the ball from the Cougars or forced turnovers, but couldn’t finish on the other end.
Nielson’s buzzer-beating trey propelled Cedar to a 22-18 halftime lead, but something was clearly off.
“We didn’t get the stops we were looking for, we walked the ball up the floor and didn’t get easy buckets,” Staggs explained. “We did those things in the second half and that’s what helped us bounce back.”
Union’s Alex Horrocks opened the third with a 3-pointer — his only shot of the night — to pull his team within a point. That’s about as close as the Cougars got.
From then on out, it was all Cedar.
An 11-3 run pushed the Reds lead to nine. Later, with the third quarter winding down, a huge momentum shift occurred when Brock Englestead hit back-to-back shots, including a steal that led to another Cedar 3-point buzzer beater not to mention a comfortable 39-28 lead heading into the final quarter.
Cedar’s fire didn’t subside. If anything, it got better.
By the time Ryan Armstrong (9 points) hit a baseline shot while falling on his back — drawing a foul in the process — Union’s swagger had all but dissipated.
A brief 7-0 Cougar run kept things interesting for the fans, but didn’t amount to much, especially once the final horn sounded.
“When we play hard and play together and share the basketball we’re a good team,” Cardon said. “If we don’t, we’re not. Hopefully we can learn and continue to play the way we did when we were at our best.”
Jona Wood scored a game high 16 points for Union. Landen Winn chipped in 13.
Tellingly, Cougar star Stephen Merrell scored 18 points in the December matchup, but was held scoreless in Friday’s game. Staggs explained he zeroed in on Merrell after enduring his hot shooting in the previous outing.
“I was frustrated by that and wanted to show everyone that I could step up when it mattered,” he said.