ST. GEORGE — In the first round of the UHSAA Class 4A boys basketball state playoffs, the Desert Hills Thunder took on the visiting Mountain Crest Mustangs. The Mustangs had a long trip down to St. George, traveling from Hyrum, but played well in the first half. After being down eight at halftime, Mountain Crest pulled to within four points but Desert Hills pushed the lead to 15 and eventually won 82-59.
The biggest thing for Thunder head coach Wade Turley was to make sure his team did not see Mountain Crest as a cakewalk. The Mustangs were the No. 21 seed while the Thunder were the No. 12 seed.
“Absolutely, I watched a lot of film on these guys,” Desert Hills head coach Wade Turley said of Mountain Crest. “They’re competitive. I can’t believe they’ve only won one game. They’ve got some players, they’ve got some kids that can compete and they’ve been competitive in a lot of games.”
The game was close through the first half, but Desert Hills was able to push ahead in the third thanks to their defensive effort. They began to string together stops and baskets, which led to the run by the Thunder.
“We kept going in the third quarter, and we started getting stops,” Desert Hills guard Justin Judkins said. “When we get stops defense leads to offense, and that’s what we started to do. We pushed the ball and that’s when we’re at our best. That’s how we got our easy baskets.”
That is when the lead extended and grew to 23 by the end of the game.
After a three-game losing streak to end the regular season, Turley said it was good to have all their players back and healthy. Jace Mortensen had been dealing with ammonia, Keegan Munson has had lingering knee issues and Justin Judkins hurt his ankle last week. They were able to get their whole team back for the game against Mountain Crest and it definitely showed.
The win sets up a rematch between No. 12 Desert Hills and No. 5 Pine View. In the first meeting of the two teams, Pine View won at home on a last-second shot by Ryan Hopper. In the second game, Peyton Holmes hit a three-point shot late in the game to give the Thunder the win at home.
With the season series being a split and both games being won on the final possession, the anticipation is high going into Friday’s game.
“Oh we want it,” Judkins said. “We’re excited and we’re hungry.”
Turley spoke about the respect between the two teams and coaches and how competitive the first two games were.
“In both games, you’ve seen it come down to the last possession and we split it,” Turley said. “It’s about as tight, close and competitive as you can get. If we don’t come out and play with a little better intensity defensively then we might be in trouble. I feel like the kids getting back together, getting a little momentum from this game and get a little confidence, but I know they’re looking forward to it. They know and realize that Pine View is legit but we also feel like we’re legit.”
The biggest turning point against Mountain Crest was the Thunder defense. Their pressure and intensity caused turnovers and led to easy baskets. When they got stops and paired them with buckets, they were rolling. That defense is going to be a big key for the Thunder come Friday.
“Absolutely critical,” Turley said of their defense. “They’ve got some three-point shooters, obviously even better then Mountain Crest, so we can’t let them have open shots. Then they have some post kids that can score as well so they present a difficult challenge because their inside game is very tough and strong then their outside game is strong. Their pretty balanced and we would like to say we’re similar that way with our bigs and our three-point shooting ability.”
The Thunder will play Pine View at 7 p.m. on Friday at Pine View high school.
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