ST. GEORGE — Cedar is averaging just 58.5 points per game on the season so far but three of their last four games they have scored 75 plus points, with two of them being 80 or more points. Their offense did not disappoint on Thursday as they took down Crimson Cliffs on the road in blowout fashion, 75-54.
Cedar has been a team that slows the pace of the game sometimes this season, keeping the total scoring down, but lately they have been in some shootouts.
When asked about what has changed with their offense, head coach Mark Esplin said part of it was his coaching.
“I’ve taken the reigns off of them, kind of let them run right now,” Esplin said. “Early we had to change some things. I felt like we needed to show that we are going to be a defensive team. Now we’ve said, ‘If we get an opportunity we’re going to run, we’re going to take good shots,’ and we’ve been able to do that. As long as they continue to take the shots that are good instead of my turn shots, we’re going to let them run, and they should be able to get up and down the floor with anybody.”
The uptempo style has worked for the Reds. With Gaige Savage and Dallin Grant leading the charge, the Reds have one of the most potent scoring guard combos in Region9 . Savage had 19 points on the night while Grant went off for 20 points in the first half, finishing the game with 24 points.
Grant talked about the change in the Reds’ offensive style after the game.
“At the beginning of the season we were trying to get used to each other, so we had to stick with the basics and just play defense,” Grant said. “After we found our defense we could go ahead and get some shots up, get loose and let the reigns go.”
Listed at 6’7″ on the Reds roster, Grant can play in the post with anyone in the region. His size and athleticism allow him to get to the rim and finish with ease. Esplin called him a “special player.”
“When Dallin gets it going he is a kid who can string a lot of shots together in a row,” Esplin said of the junior. “Dallin sacrificed a little bit of what he wants to do for the betterment of the team most of the year.”
As for Crimson Cliffs, 39 of their 54 points came by way of the deep ball. They have been known to get shots up early and often, but Thursday was a different story. The Mustangs played great against Desert Hills on Tuesday, but at one point against Cedar, all 33 of their points were from 3-point baskets.
Mustangs coach Kasey Winter said it isn’t the way the team want to play.
“We know we’re going to shoot a lot of threes, but to know that every point that we scored in the first half was off a three and even midway into the third quarter, we just have to have more intention on getting the ball inside,” Winters said. “The threes we did hit weren’t dribble threes; it was inside out, it was an extra pass or something like that that got us open. I think we made it really difficult for ourselves tonight just on our shot selection.”
The Mustangs did not move the ball like they have in the past couple of games. When shots weren’t falling it looked as if they were forcing some shots instead of using easy baskets and driving opportunities to fuel their outside shooting.
The ball just seemed to stick for the Mustangs. During the first few minutes of the game it looked different. Crimson came out and knocked down two threes off good ball movement, but then the shots stopped falling. Those were the only two shots the Mustangs hit in the first quarter, and Winters attributed this to their inability to score during the game.
“I think we just lost our composure a little bit. We had a couple of those, and they didn’t go down, so instead of sticking with it we went away from our game plan a little bit, started doing a little too much on our own, and it’s hard to make buckets that way.”
Cedar was up 19 at halftime, and they kept pushing in the second half to make it a 20-point game.
The difficult part about Crimson Cliffs is their ability to shoot the ball. When they’re hot they can be dangerous, but when they’re off it’s a different story.
“They’re a team that does like to shoot threes,” Esplin said of the Reds. “You know you’re going to have to defend them, and when they’re missing a few it gives you a chance to leak out. We told Luke Armstrong to defend the paint and everybody else get out on them, contest them and run them off the line. We did an OK job. I don’t think we were great at it, but we still have some things to work on defense.”
The Reds defended the paint really well while capitalizing on their size down low. They didn’t pound it in the post that much, instead they attacked the offensive rebounds with that size.
Another thing Crimson Cliffs struggled with was keeping the offensive players in front of them. The drives into the lane opened up dump down opportunities for the Reds and some wide open layups as well. The size difference is something the Mustangs have been dealing with all season.
“I think if we can keep the ball in front of us and pressure the ball, it’s going to keep the ball out of the paint,” Winters said of combating their size difference. “We’ve had a tough time doing that at times this season and as the games have been close, or the games we’ve lost and it’s our inability to keep the ball in front of us.”
Cedar has surprised a lot of people this season. The Reds have only won six total games in the last three region seasons, but they seem to have found the right recipe this year.
They’ve won five of their last six games and are on a three game region win streak. They’ve also beaten some good teams in Hurricane and Pine View.
“I’m really happy,” Esplin said. “We started out 1-2, but we’ve won three in a row which is the longest winning streak we’ve had in region in at least three or four years. We’re getting better, and we’ve got kids that have bought into the program. We’ve had kids that aren’t putting up big numbers, but they’re working extremely hard and they’re doing the things we ask them to do. It’s so great to see.”
Next up for the Reds, they face Snow Canyon which will be another good test. They hope to finish the first half of region play 5-2, which would put them in a good spot to contend for the region title in the second half.
On the other hand, the Mustangs have also been a little bit of a surprise. They’ve beaten Snow Canyon, Hurricane and Desert Hills in their first season as a program. They don’t want the pity vote, but the Mustangs have shown that they can play with some of the best teams in the region.
They go on the road next week against Canyon View and Snow Canyon. If the Mustangs get the win at Canyon View they’ll finish the first half of region 4-3, which will put them in the upper half of the standings heading into the final stretch.
“Just get back at it,” Winters said when asked about what is next. “They know what it takes to win, and we know what the recipe is. It’s playing hard and sharing the ball. It’s just going back to the drawing board, going back to the basics and doing a really good job committing to play together. We’re fine, we’re not hitting the panic button, and we’ll be ready to go on Tuesday.”
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