The 2015-16 4A Southern Idaho Conference boys basketball season has looked a lot like a game of king of the mountain, as teams take turns knocking each other off the top of the standings.
On Friday night, it was Kuna’s turn to rise to the top, and the Kavemen don’t plan on going anywhere.
Kuna swept its regular-season series against Mountain Home with a 42-35 victory, and then leap-frogged Bishop Kelly for first place after the Knights lost to Caldwell.
The Kavemen (7-8, 4-2) started their league schedule with three straight wins, but back-to-back losses to Middleton and Caldwell dropped them into a share of second place with Mountain Home (11-6, 3-3).
The 4A SIC regular-season champion earns homecourt advantage throughout the district tournament, a prize the Kavemen hope to hold on to as they eye their first state tournament berth since 2012.
“Since everybody has beaten pretty much everybody in our league, we have to focus more on now than later,” Kuna senior Kyle Keenan said. “We have to focus on getting through the season to get to districts in order to even go to state. State is the No. 1 goal, but we have to get through everything else first.”
Kuna coach Joe Kleffner said his team struggled under defensive pressure in its conference losses, but the Kavemen appear to have learned from their mistakes.
Mountain Home applied a half-court press in the fourth quarter as it tried to rally from as much as a 12-point deficit. Kuna responded with quick passes downcourt, resulting in a series of easy layups.
After Kuna and Mountain Home combined for just 25 points in the first half and were tied 22-22 after three quarters, the Kavemen went on a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter for a 31-22 lead.
“We’re big and tall and long,” Kleffner said. “And they’re short and quick.”
Kuna’s height proved to be a decisive advantage down the stretch as the Kavemen focused on taking it to the hoop.
“(Zackery) Barton told me at halftime that I needed to attack the rim more,” said Keenan, who finished with a team-leading 12 points and nine rebounds. “That’s just what I did, and everything started falling for me.”
With time running out, Mountain Home was forced to foul, and Barton was the benefactor. The sophomore reserve went 5-for-5 from the free-throw line in the final three minutes and tallied nine points for the game.
Mountain Home made three 3-pointers in a span of 30 seconds with less than two minutes remaining — including back-to-back 3s from AJ Woodruff — but Kuna’s accuracy at the free-throw line made it impossible for the Tigers to close the gap.
Woodruff led all scorers with 16 points and was the only Tiger to reach double figures. Marcus Egusquiza and Jymon Garretson added five points apiece for Mountain Home, which finished third at state last season.