Hillcrest vs Idaho Falls boys basketball

Idaho Falls coach Howard Hart cheers on his team during a game against Hillcrest this season.

For the first time since 1988, the Idaho Falls High School boys basketball team will get the opportunity to hang a state championship banner in its gym.

Coach Howard Hart said he knew this season’s team had the potential to make history, but as every coach knows, anything can happen in the postseason. And that’s where this year’s team shined.

Idaho Falls finished the season on a 12-game win streak, breezed through the 4A District 6 tournament, and then dispatched of Twin Falls and Vallivue in the state tournament before knocking out three-time defending champion Preston 66-57 in overtime to claim the 4A championship. It was the program’s first title since 1988 and first championship game appearance since losing to Pocatello in 1999. Idaho Falls finished 20-5 overall.

“You want to beat the best on the biggest stage and Coach Hart did that by beating Preston,” Sugar-Salem coach Shawn Freeman said.

Hart, the Post Register All-Area Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, took a team that had the size, talent and experience to compete for a championship and molded the group into something more.

“Howard’s personality and the personality of the kids he has on the team, they just match up,” Skyline coach Clint Cornish said. “He gave a lot of responsibility to the guys out there to be able to make really good decisions.”

That trait proved decisive in the postseason run as the Tigers were able to make adjustments for whichever opponent they faced. Against Twin Falls in the state tournament opener, the Tigers won a physical, grind-it out style of game. Against Vallivue, it was perfect execution and an almost surgical-like approach that led to victory. Preston was a game where mental toughness came into play. Idaho Falls was the underdog, but didn’t flinch and held off the Indians in the second half.

“What he did was amazing,” Ririe coach Eric Torgerson said. “Coach Hart has such a gift of coaching to the situation. He’s able to adjust and I think that says a lot about a high school coach. We can’t recruit like the colleges, so for a high school coach to be able to have his kids adjust and follow a different game plan to get the objective complete, I thought he did a super job of that. They bought into that and executed his plan. It was awesome to see the success they had.”

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