ST. GEORGE — The two teams that were tied for second place faced off on Friday night at Desert Hills, with the Thunder coming out victorious.
Snow Canyon started strong, jumping out to a 9-4 lead after the first quarter, but their offense fell silent in the second and third quarter which allowed Desert Hills to build the lead. The Thunder held of a fourth-quarter run from Snow Canyon and won 50-38.
“I didn’t think we were ready when we started out,” Desert Hills head coach Ron Denos said. “It took them till halftime for them to listen, we talked about things that would work and they came out in the third quarter and really took it to them. I’m just happy that the girls listened and they went out and did the job.”
Desert Hills’ game plan from the start of the game was to closeout hard on Tylei Jensen and Olivia Harris, forcing other players from Snow Canyon to beat them. They did just that, holding both to a combined 10 points in the first half. They both finished with a team high 11 points on the night.
“They knew that Tylei (Jensen) and Olivia (Harris) are really good shooters, taking that away from us, they closed out on Olivia hard,” Snow Canyon head coach Dan Roden said. “We just have to get some more girls being confident to step up and shoot, I thought finally in the fourth quarter, Hallie Remund did that. But when a zone is that long and that active, if you don’t hit some outside shots it’s a struggle. Their size gave us some problems.”
Kami Bliss had a big night offensively for the Thunder, leading the way with 20 points. She had just as big of an impact on the defensive side of the ball.
The Desert Hills zone defense is what made the difference in the game. That same zone caused problems against Cedar and has been something other teams have had a hard time cracking. The biggest challenge for other teams is the Thunder’s length.
With Kami Bliss, Julia Jacobsen and Sydney Peisley or Shailee Bundy on the back line, the Thunder boast some serious height. Add in Maggie Westhoss and Sa’de Turlington at the top and you have a combination of speed and size. Desert Hills closed out hard on Snow Canyon’s shooters and led them into their size down low for tough looks around the basket.
The zone also allows the Thunder to avoid fatigue.
“It’s been real big because we’re not very deep right now and we have to shorten the game a little bit, so I have to play zone to give us the rest a little bit,” Denos said of their zone defense. “It’s crucial and we talked, we had them scouted, about what we wanted to do and they really focused on it. I know, especially in the third quarter, they were really frustrated with it.”
The hard closeouts on shooters and good rotations defensively seemed to fluster Snow Canyon at times. As shots stopped falling, that only increased the frustration.
“They get frustrated, it’s like any team when the shots aren’t going especially considering Wednesday night out at Hurricane we hit nine threes and shot really well,” Roden said. “Of course this is a whole different animal here, a much better zone, more active and longer. We just have to learn that when stuff isn’t working, try something else and we did some different things in the fourth quarter that they responded well to.”
Health will be huge for the Thunder going into the second half of the region season. They have been dealing with injured players since the beginning of the year but they have some tough games coming up with Dixie and Pine View next week. A key will be the training room. Denos said of the first half that they have put themselves in a good spot and they control their own destiny.
“It would be nice if we could because we have Dixie and Pine View coming up next,” Denos said of staying healthy. “We’ve been banged up all year, there are times where we start practice with five people because they’re all in the training room. It’s just a matter of us taping up and being ready to play.”
For Snow Canyon, this is not time to panic. Tthey have also put themselves in a position where they can contend for the region championship. That being said, they have a big game on Wednesday against Cedar then follow it up with a game against Crimson Cliffs.
“That’s what we told them, it’s is only our second loss of the year,” Roden said. “We’re still in good shape to get a home game in that second round, which is our goal to be top 8.”
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