AUGUSTA — This wasn't about redemption for Buhler's Quinton Allen.
And it wasn't about first-year coach Dennis Wahlgren returning Buhler to the Class 4A tournament for the first time since 2005.
Buhler's 41-35 victory over Circle on Saturday night in the sub-state championship game at Augusta was about a team finally realizing its potential.
"I feel very strongly that they believe in me and I believe very strongly in them," Wahlgren said. "When you get that kind of relationship it makes all the difference in the world, as far as what you can accomplish on the court."
To advance past the Thunderbirds (19-3), Wahlgren knew the focus of his defense would be on senior post Jordan Phillips.
So he crafted a plan that the Crusaders executed to perfection.
"He likes to turn to his left shoulder, so I tried to play him on that shoulder and force him to turn the other way," said 6-foot-2 Drew Pankratz (nine points, 10 rebounds), the player assisgned to the 6-5 Phillips.
To prevent Phillips from turning either way, Buhler gambled by taking a defender off to double-team. The Crusaders would live with Circle hitting threes — the Thunderbirds hit none.
With a state berth at stake, the offense was hard to come by. But Buhler found its edge with superior outside shooting. Brandon Givens drained his third three of the game with 1:47 left in the third quarter to give Buhler a 27-25 lead.
After that, the Buhler lead fluctuated between six and two points the rest of the game.
"When you're playing from behind, you can't dictate a lot of terms," Wahlgren said.
Phillips still got his portion — 14 points and seven rebounds — but the Circle supporting cast finished with 21 points on 9-of-23 shooting.
"(Wahlgren) had really high expectations for us," said Givens, who finished with a game-high 18 points. "He told us what to do and we did it and now we're going to state."
Allen, who missed two wide open lay-ups that could have sealed the victory, stepped to the free-throw line with nine seconds left and sank both of his attempts — his only two points of the game.
"Those two lay-ups were pretty ridiculous, honestly," Allen said. "Being able to redeem myself at the line meant everything to me."
When it was all over and Buhler had accepted its trophy, Allen and his teammates hoisted Wahlgren on their shoulders and carried the coach that had carried them.
"That was a pretty special moment," Wahlgren said. "There were a lot of happy feelings in that moment."
Buhler (18-4) 11 9 9 12 — 41 Circle (19-3) 11 8 6 10 — 35
BUHLER: Givens 18, Torgerson 10, Pankratz 9, Lohrentz 2, Allen 2. Totals 12 (6) 11-17 41.
CIRCLE: Phillips 14, Warren 9, Tunnell 8, Kinder 2, Gardinier 2. Totals 16 (0) 3-5 35.