OREM – Every team has a bad quarter, sometimes even two. But for Desert Hills, the rough stretch couldn’t have come at a worst time.
The Thunder went through their worst first half of the season Thursday against perhaps their best opponent of the year and it cost them any chance at a victory in Orem’s 71-56 4A state quarterfinal win at the UCCU Center.
“Unfortunately, we really struggled to make shots in the first half and they seemed to hit everything,” Desert Hills coach Wade Turley said. “We got steamrolled there. But I am proud of the way the kids fought back – it really took some heart and at least they kept their heads held high.
Tyler Marz put Desert Hills ahead 3-2 with a 3-pointer just 50 seconds into the game. But for the Thunder, nothing would fall after that. D-Hills went through the next 7:03 of game play with no points. Not a tip-in, a 3-pointer, a layup … not even a free throw.
“We just smothered them in the first half,” Orem coach Golden Holt said. “That first half playing straight man, they didn’t get any easy shots.”
Trevin Lindstrom finally broke the dry run with a 3-pointer with seven seconds left in the first, but by that time, the Tigers had built a huge lead. And the big lead came courtesy of Puka Nacua.
“I know a lot of teams think I can’t shoot and I don’t shoot the ball a ton, so if they were gonna leave me open coach said to take the shot,” Nacua said. “Today they all were going in.”
Nacua, the speedy junior point guard who also torched the Desert Hills football team as a wide receiver for the Tigers last fall, was on fire in the first half. He scored 12 of his team’s first 17 points, including two 3-pointers, as Orem scored seemingly at will. His layup at 6:20 made it 4-3 and he scored eight quick points midway through the first to push the Orem lead to 17-3. Ross Reeves then hit four straight free throws to push it to 21-3 before Lindstrom finally stopped the 19-0 run.
“We have had three or four games this year where everything would click and our shots would fall and we had one the first half today,” Holt said. “I think at one point Puka made eight shots in a row. And when you shoot like that, it puts a lot of pressure on the other team.”
Things got even worse for the Thunder in the second quarter. Nacua, Reeves and Taylor Hockersmith scored in succession as the lead grew to 27-6 90 seconds into the second quarter. After a basket by Tucker Peterson and a free throw by Marz, Orem went another long run, turning a 27-9 lead into a 37-9 advantage with 3:21 left in the second quarter. With Nacua and the offense hitting on all cylinders, it was a monstrous 45-15 lead at intermission. Nacua had 19 of the Tigers’ 45 points.
“Collectively as a team, we have taken it upon ourselves to grind and fight and get back off the mat when things are tough and they will always remember that – hey, we are fighters,” Turley said. “I’ll remember this team as the team that never says die and we had that great comeback to be here at the quarterfinals. They’ll take that into life and they’ll be fine.”
With the chances at winning slim at best, Desert Hills played much looser in the second half. The Thunder started chipping away at the lead and had it down to 55-31 at the end of the third quarter, outscoring the Tigers 16-10 in the frame.
In the fourth, D-Hills actually got within 17, including the final score, but the game was never in doubt for Orem, which improved to 19-5 on the year.
“Tom Osbourne at Nebraska said once that you don’t win the game at the end of the game with the score, you win the game when you break the other team’s will at some point,” Holt said. “I think when we made those early shots, it translated into more easy shots with layups and transition stuff and then the lead goes from 10 or 12 to 20 plus.”
Turley said he was proud of the way his team fought to the very end.
“They were winners by the way they came back and competed and won the second half,” he said. “Just getting here was a great accomplishment. We have a great region and it was tough to be a top two seed in our region, so to be there says a lot about our team. The seniors reminded those juniors how fast that senior year goes by. They always remind me of the enjoyment of the game and they enjoy the game, they enjoy each other and playing with each other and they reminded me that this game should be fun.”
Desert Hills made just 4 of 25 shots in the first half, but did manage to hit 14 of 27 field goals after halftime. Peterson finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Lindstrom chipped in 14 points. Orem had a 22-11 rebounding advantage at halftime, but it ended up just a 32-29 edge by the end of the game.
The Thunder lose the season with a 17-7 record. Orem heads into Friday night’s 4A semifinal and will play Juan Diego at 7:30 p.m. Nacua finished with 27 points for the Tigers.
4A first round results
Payson 71, Tooele 54
Sky View 61, Canyon View 42
Dixie 64, Bear River 55
Salem Hills 60, Stansbury 48
Desert Hills 65, Green Canyon 63
Orem 62, Bonneville 39
Juan Diego 75, Lehi 50
Hurricane 64, Logan 57
4A quarterfinal matchups (@ UCCU Center, Utah Valley University)
Sky View 63, Payson 48
Salem Hills 56, Dixie 46
Orem 71, Desert Hills 56
Juan Diego 59, Hurricane 54
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