ST. GEORGE — The most anticipated matchup of the Region 9 girls basketball season proved to be one to remember as Class 4A RPI No. 1-ranked Desert Hills hosted No. 3-ranked Cedar. After building a 17-point lead at halftime, the Thunder were rolling, but Cedar charged back in the second and completed a massive comeback to get the 58-53 road win.
“We talked about one possession at a time. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Reds head coach Corry Nielsen said. “In the second quarter, we were just overmatched. I was being outcoached, our girls were in a panic, we’d never been in that spot before, too many one-pass threes and that’s not us. Second half, we started attacking, we got them in foul trouble and we had to use what we had. We had to use our quickness, our speed and our shooting.”
Nielsen said the Reds haven’t been down by more then 10 points in three years. This was uncharted territory for the Reds, but they didn’t give up.
Thunder head coach Ron Denos said that was the best his team has played all season.
“I thought the girls really bought into what we were trying to do, I thought they moved the ball really well and hit the open kid, but we came in pretty dang high,” Denos said. “We still had a half to play and I knew that they were going to come back. It was just the tale of two halves.”
Desert Hills was up by three after the first quarter, but a massive second-quarter run propelled them to a 17-point lead at halftime. It seemed as if the Thunder could do no wrong. Their inside presence with Sydney Peisley and Shailee Bundy was overpowering the Reds.
The Thunder were rebounding at a high rate, both defensively and offensively, while their zone defense was causing all sorts of problems for the Reds.
“It was huge and not only is she big but she is so strong, they just can’t get around her,” Denos said of Bundy. “I thought that Syd (Peisley) really played aggressive tonight, more than she has lately and I asked a lot from her. I thought they passed the ball really well and looked for those girls down there. We really tried to pound it in and they did a very good job in the first half.”
Nielsen said despite being in unfamiliar ground with the halftime deficit, the Reds weren’t about to throw in the towel.
“Our whole thing was, we need stops,” Nielsen said. “We’re not going to win if we can’t stop them. It started from the very first possession when we got a turnover. Once that ball gets going, it’s hard to stop.”
The Reds demeanor changed immediately after a quick steal and bucket to start the second half. A 17-6 third quarter started the fire and it kept rolling.
The biggest problem for Desert Hills was the foul trouble. Kami Bliss got her fourth foul in the third quarter while Bundy, Peisley and Turlington got into foul trouble as well. That had a major effect on the game.
“They just came out aggressive and we just didn’t punch back at them when they did that and that’s something we’ve got to learn,” Denos said. “I think part of it, too, is our girls getting in foul trouble kind of takes off the aggressiveness and we needed to be aggressive still. They had to sit back and it affects them defensively, but offensively, too.”
The zone defense that had shaken the Reds in the first half was something they used to their advantage in the second. They began to attack gaps while getting to the rim aggressively, leading to the fouls called on the Thunder. That was a big part of their game plan in the second half.
They also did a great job of attacking the zone out of the high post. When the ball got into the high post, it opened up plenty of other options for the Reds.
“That was our focus the whole game though and we didn’t do it because we were so one pass, bombs away,” Nielsen said. “That was our whole emphasis, get the ball to the high post, look below, look opposite or get to the rim and cause fouls. Do what we do and good things will take place.”
The game ended up being tied at 52 with about a minute left. That’s when Cedar’s Japrix Weaver got a good look at a three and she nailed it.
“I wasn’t really thinking, it was just a reaction,” Weaver said of the shot. “I think that’s what good players are supposed to do, just shoot it and I didn’t really think. I just knew I was open so I looked at the rim, shot it, it went in and I was pretty excited.”
After that, the Reds were in control.
The Thunder had four players in double figures, with Peisley leading the way with 15 points. For the Reds, Weaver had 16 while Mayci Torgerson had a game-high 19.
“We have never been behind by over maybe 10 points in any game in three years. It’s all brand new but this is exactly what I wanted,” Nielsen said. “It turned out fine but I challenged them. I said, ‘What are we made of?’ Games aren’t always going to be pretty, we’re not always going to make shots and it’s not going to be that way. Sometimes you’ve got to fight for it, get down in the paint and earn it.”
A big contributor for the Reds was Jaidi Willden. You might not have been able to see what she did on the stat sheet but her defense and her rebounding was huge. At one point, she had to come out of the game because her nose was bleeding.
“Jaidi came in and gave us some valuable inside time with her and Denim together, which they haven’t done the whole year,” Nielsen said. “They played together and Jaidi did a fantastic job on defense.”
As for the second-half struggles, Denos said you can’t blame it on the foul calls. They had to control what they could control.
“We needed to be stronger with the ball and start being aggressive and attacking,” Denos said. “That’s something they’ve got to learn. I’ve always said to them, we’re going to learn each game so when we have the chance at the end we’re going to win the last game.”
This was a great test for the Reds but it was also a great effort for the Thunder. It showed them that they can stick around and even dominate one of the best teams in the state.
“We’ll see what we can do this next week, it’s going to tell what kind of team we are and how we can pick ourselves off the ground,” Denos said.
Cedar will be at Pine View to start the week and then at home against Canyon View. Desert Hills will be at Canyon View and then home against Crimson Cliffs.
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