CEDAR CITY — After their win on Wednesday night, player Japrix Weaver said the team had only shown about 60% of their true potential as a team.
The Reds had a tough time shooting the ball and were outworked at times, but they were still able to pull out the win 53-48. Desert Hills came into the game ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A RPI, but they were going up against the defending region and state champion Reds. The game was a battle.
“It’s a good thing for both of our teams to play that kind of a game,” Nielsen said. “We haven’t played a whole lot of close possession type ball games where every possession counts. In these kind of games here, you’ve got to execute and get down and play in the mud. Sometimes our team doesn’t play in the mud too well but I thought in the final two and a half minutes we got down and played really good.”
For Desert Hills, their downfall came as a result of late turnovers and missed rebounds down the stretch.
“They made the plays that they needed to make at the end,” Denos said. “Big-time three, we get the rebound and they got turnovers against us. That’s why they’re champions. I’m proud of my girls, they battled in the game, and I think Cedar knows that we’re not that bad of a team.”
The Thunder came out to a fast start, with a 7-1 lead early. Cedar was getting plenty of good looks against the zone defense Desert Hills was playing, there just seemed to be a lid on the rim. Nothing was falling for Cedar, and this continued through most of the game. The game was tied 12-12 at the end of the first quarter.
The one constant for Cedar, besides their defense, was the play of Mayci Torgerson. She had eight of their 12 points in the first quarter and finished the game with 22 points.
“Offensively we played really poor tonight,” Torgerson said. “I would say, out of all the games we’ve played so far, that that was our worst shooting night. It’s good to know that we can shoot horribly and still come out with the win.”
At the half, Cedar took a 26-21 lead. Sydney Peisley had 10 points for the Thunder while Torgerson had 12.
It was a tight game through the third quarter, with the score being 37-33 in favor of the Reds heading into the fourth. The final quarter is where it all heated up.
The Reds looked as if they were going to pull away with the game when they went up by six, but the Thunder reeled it back in.
“That’s something about our team all year, we let teams make runs, then we come back and settle in,” Denos said. “We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball. That’s what killed us, our turnovers.”
The Thunder took the lead with 2:40 left on the clock and the game started to go back and forth. Desert Hills then ran a beautiful play out of their timeout that got Kami Bliss a wide open layup. The Thunder had a two-point lead with about a minute left.
Sam Johnston, someone who was having a tough shooting night, came down and answered with a three. The reds were now up one and after a number of late turnovers and missed rebounds, Cedar won 53-48.
The pressure of the Reds was suffocating at times for the Thunder. Cedar ended the night with 17 steals. Weaver led the way with five for the Reds, but their defensive pressure is what led to the turnovers.
“We knew they weren’t great ball handlers so we knew if we get into them and play tight they would turn over the ball.”
This is something the Reds scouted coming into the game. Nielsen scouts teams in a fashion that not many high school coaches do. He actually tests his players going into the game about their scouting report and dives into trends the average coach might not be able to translate. It’s similar to a college-style scouting report. The Reds were dialed in on their opposition and they will be for future games.
The Reds knew that Desert Hills was going to play a zone defense, but Nielsen said the Thunder’s zone was something unlike what they have seen.
“Almost every team will play that against us, a zone,” Nielsen said. “They’re different because they’re longer. There’s not a whole lot of gaps we can get into and penetrate. What we had to do is play in the high post.”
With Kami Bliss and Sydney Peisley in the back row of their 2-3 zone, the Thunder boast the length and size that helps the zone excel. Add in the activity of their guards at the top and you have a pretty solid defensive gameplan.
“That’s just something we’ve been doing the whole season,” Denos said of the zone defense. “We’re pretty good at it because we’re long and we’re good about talking and being active. They’re quick and athletic, it’d be tough for us to play man-to-man on them.”
Nielsen agreed with Weaver’s statement that their performance was only 60% of their true potential. When asked what 100% was, Nielsen chuckled and pointed to a newspaper article about perfection. The reds finished last season a perfect 25-0.
“See that there, that’s 100%,” Nielsen said. “Are we ever going to get there, no. But we sure can shoot a lot better than we did tonight. We had wide open shots.”
For their second game of the week, the Reds will head to Pine View on Friday. The Panthers are coming off of a 64-51 victory over Class 4A No. 2 ranked Snow Canyon on Wednesday. It’ll be another challenge for the Reds as Pine View has a similar size advantage.
“Rebounding, that’s our biggest focus,” Nielsen said. “We don’t have a whole lot of big girls on our team. We’re athletic, we’re long and we’re all good ball handlers.”
When asked about how the Panthers’ guards matchup with his guards he said, “we’ll have to wait and see.”
Desert Hills hosts Canyon View on Friday as they look to rebound from the tough loss.
The next time these two teams meet will be on Jan. 31, but it will be a Desert Hills home game. Make sure to mark your calendars as it should be another great game.
“It’s going to be another battle I hope,” Denos said. “That’s what I’m planning on.”
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