ST. GEORGE — The girls basketball team at Desert Hills High School lost to Richfield in the Desert Hills Holiday Tournament Saturday afternoon, but the Thunder has plenty to look forward to as the season goes on.
The visiting Wildcats were paced to their 44-41 victory by 6-foot-3 junior center Nicole Willardson, who dominated especially in the first half and led all scorers in the contest with 18 points.
Willardson had her way with the Thunder underneath the hoop, scoring 16 of her points in the first two quarters and putting the Wildcats ahead 27-19 at the break.
“We had to get help against their big player, she was killing us in the first half,” Desert Hills coach Ron Denos told St. George News after the game. “And then I think we kind of shut her down a little bit.”
Desert Hills senior Alivia Cluff netted two free throws and later converted a 3-point play as the Thunder cut into Richfield’s lead, 29-28, at the 1:38 mark of the third quarter.
After a free throw, the Wildcats advantage was only one basket, 30-28, going into the final frame.
“You know, we got ourselves back in it with our defense,” Denos said. “Our offense just wasn’t there today.”
Thunder point guards Enid Vaifanua and Sa’de Turlington had back-to-back buckets to bring the tally to 35-32 for Richfield at the 4:00 mark of the fourth quarter.
Vaifanua and Turlington each scored 8 points in the contest, and both showed strong penetration skills from the top of the key as they sliced their way through Wildcats defenders.
Cluff led all Thunder scorers with 11 points. Julia Jacobsen scored 9 and Hannah Heaton contributed 5 points in the defeat, including the only Desert Hills 3-pointer in the game.
“Our players played hard, we’re just not making baskets right now and we played a very good team,” Denos said.
Desert Hills was forced to foul down the stretch and Richfield preserved the win at the free throw line, finishing 11-for-16 overall from the charity stripe.
“We still need to get more fluid on offense, there’s things we need to do,” Denos said. “Defensively we play hard at times. We got some things to work on but they’ll be alright.”
The Thunder has time to work out the early season kinks before the gauntlet of the Region 10 schedule begins.
“I think we’ll be in the thick of it. I’m hoping we’re right there in the Region and we’ll see what happens,” Denos said.
Desert Hills saw its record slip to 1-2 overall early in the season after the loss. On Thursday night, the Thunder fell 50-40 to Riverton.
Vaifanua led the Thunder with 12 points in that game, with Jacobsen netting 11 and Heaton scoring 8.
Then on Friday Desert Hills picked up its first win of the year, beating Box Elder 75-51.
Both Heaton and Jacobsen led the Thunder in that win with 14 points apiece. Cluff scored 12 and Turnlington contributed 9 points to the victory.
The Thunder are scheduled to take the floor Dec. 9 on the road against Judge Memorial (Salt Lake City).
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