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South Salt Lake Journal

Cottonwood boys basketball returns to the state QFs for first time since 2007

Apr 05, 2023 02:34PM ● By Brian Shaw

The Cottonwood Colts capped a memorable season with a quarterfinal run at the state tournament. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

“It was a good season for Cottonwood basketball,” said Cottonwood High head boys basketball coach Marc Miller. “We finished 23-2, won our first region title since 2007 and made it the quarterfinals of [5A] State [Tournament].”

To get there, Cottonwood put the ball in the hands of senior Kirath Makhar, the floor general who led the Colts starting five into a quick huddle out of the halftime locker room, ahead 40-23 in this 5A second-round game against Payson, Feb. 24. 

Makhar was in a groove, cleaning his shoes with one hand while the other held the ball at the elbow off one inbounds play. There was no chance a Payson defender would even try taking the ball away. 

Makhar then picked up his dribble, spinning a pass into the key before it was deposited back out and three dribble handoffs led to a trey from senior Max Russo. Then, another trey from Russo. Then a heat check from Russo clanked off the back of the rim as the Colts played a 3-and-D game the rest of the way. Russo hit his fifth three point shot in the third with three minutes to go, and by then Cottonwood was up 57-32. 

At that point, Russo already had 19 points. It was his show’s along with the senior Makhar who [8 points] dished out 13 assists. 

The PA played the Harlem Globetrotters theme during a Payson timeout after Makhar cut the lane and no-look zinged a pass across court to senior Jackson Price who splashed another three for a 65-40 Colts lead. 

You could sense something special was going on in the Cottonwood high gymnasium. Before the game had even ended, some students were already removing their shirts and were admonished by the PA announcer to put them back on—else they'd be removed from the gym. 

Makhar, who was 5A’s top assist man, and Russo who was 5A’s top three-point marksman, would both come out for their curtain calls midway through the fourth in a 73-52 rout of Payson. Junior Chris Cox added 18, and Price had 13. 

Plenty was at stake—a trip back to Weber State University’s Dee Events Center in Ogden for the 5A quarterfinals. The Cottonwood women had already been upset a day earlier at home in overtime to another south Utah County school [Spanish Fork]. The Colts boys were not planning to make it two in a row here at the home gym and they didn’t. 

In Ogden, it was an ugly, chippy game, and fouls were the name as seven-seed Timpview employed a taller lineup and tried keeping the more athletic Colts from getting open looks at the basket. 

It worked, as Makhar struggled getting going and so did Russo whose three-point shot wasn't falling for a two-seed Cottonwood team making its first trip to the 5A quarterfinals since 2007. 

Timpview also dribbled and passed well into the shot clock on every possession. But Cottonwood hung tough, cutting the Timpview lead to three with a Russo jumper, 50-47 with 7:04 left in the game. 

After a Timpview turnover, Cox had a good open look on a corner three but it rimmed out. 

Makhar who had been largely invisible for the first three quarters, started heating up and no-look dumped into Cox in the lane who was fouled. Cox swished both free throws and the Colts cut the Timpview lead to one, 50-49 with 5:42 to play. 

After Timpview knocked down a zone-buster three, Price scored his 12th and 13th points on a pull up jumper cutting that Timpview lead to 53-51 with 4:09 left. 

But the Colts were also getting thumped on the boards. Couple that with a costly turnover leading to a layup and Timpview was now ahead 55-51 with 2:59 to go in this 5A quarterfinal game. 

Barreling into the lane, Russo spun around his defender to narrow the Timpview lead back to 55-53. But Timpview splashed another zone-buster three to take a commanding 58-53 lead.  

With 1:13 left in the season, junior Ryan Nielson squirmed open for a three at the elbow. Makhar who led the way with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists found the junior—but the shot bounced out. 

Then after a Timpview player stepped out of bounds on a full-court press that Cottonwood laid down, Makhar missed a 3 off a ball-screen that is usually designed for Russo as it clanked hard off the back iron and over the backboard. 

But Makhar made up for that miss on the ensuing play going coast-to-coast on a layup with 41 seconds left, drawing Cottonwood closer at 59-55. 

After Timpview again turned the ball over thanks to the Colts’ suffocating press, Price missed an open three in the corner—but on the rebound a Timpview player stepped out of bounds. Makhar found Aiden Oliphant open under the hoop but he kicked it out to Price who missed an open three. 

The Colts had great open looks the last 41 seconds, but a Russo putback was too little, too late and their season ended with a 60-57 loss to Timpview. 

“It was a fun team to coach and a season I think all us players and coaches will remember for a long time,” said coach Miller.