BOISE – Idaho Falls players weren’t even born the last time the Tigers reached a boys basketball state championship game. That was in 1999. Idaho Falls hasn’t won a state boys basketball championship since 1988.
The banners in the gym are constant reminders, coach Howard Hart said, noting there are a lot of banners hanging in the gym celebrating titles, but none for more than three decades.
That could change on Saturday when the Tigers take on perennial power, three-time defending champion Preston for the 4A championship. Idaho Falls punched its ticket on Friday night with an almost methodical 56-45 win over Vallivue. Preston won the other 4A semifinal, beating Century 65-49.
While Thursday’s win over Twin Falls was gritty and physical, the style of play against the Falcons was almost surgical. The Tigers were poised running their offense and took full advantage of their size on both ends of the floor.
“It’s a credit to them,” Hart said of adapting to styles of play. “They prepare themselves so well … our kids just adjust.”
The Tigers (19-5) jumped out to an 11-0 lead and led 15-5 after one quarter, but Vallivue came back behind leading scorer Amoro Lado and pulled within 15-12. Idaho Falls didn’t crack, and maintained its lead and started to pull away in the second half.
Vallivue (15-11) couldn’t get any rhythm on the offensive side, with Lado seemingly being the only option. He finished with 25 points, but took 24 shots and was just 2 of 11 on 3-point attempts.
“We felt very comfortable,” said senior Paul Wilson, who at 6-10, was a force inside, scoring 10 points to go with 12 rebounds, four assists and six blocks. Vallivue had no answers inside as the Tigers won the rebounding battle 42-26.
“We can play slow, up-tempo whatever it is,” said Wilson, echoing Hart’s sentiment about the team’s ability to adapt. Vallivue scored just six points in the third quarter and senior guard Kalvin Bowen hit free throws down the stretch to seal the victory. Bowen finished with 17 points. Jaxon Sorenson scored 11 points and Braxton Ball finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Falcons, the District 3 runners-up, reached the 4A state title game two years ago.
Hart said he talked to the team about the potential for a history-making tournament.
“We asked our kids to sacrifice to get here,” he said.