By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography)
TAYLORSVILLE – After the 4A semifinal games went a little one-sided Friday at Salt Lake Community College, perhaps the best thing that came about with the arrival of the 5A contests was a little bit of drama. Both 5A girls basketball state semifinals were in doubt until late, and one came down to the very end.
What were the top stories of the day in 5A? Here are a few of them:
1) Fantastic finish – The first semifinal, between defending champion Fremont and American Fork, was not the cleanest game, but the ending was worth the price of admission.
With just over a minute to go and trailing by four points, American Fork guards Jenna Shepherd and Taylor Moeaki converged on the Fremont ball handler just before she could cross the midcourt stripe. They forced the ball free and then Shepherd fed it forward to Moeaki for the finish that cut the margin to two.
After Fremont’s Shelbee Molen connected on a pair of free throws, the same pair of Lady Cavemen connected once again. This time, Shepherd grabbed an offensive rebound and delivered the ball to Moeaki for the lay-up, which came coupled with a foul and a free throw that brought American Fork within one point at 38-37.
Then, Fremont missed on the front end of a one-and-one and the final stage was set. The Lady Cavemen called a timeout with 7.6 seconds left and set up a play that got Shepherd to the rim for a contested lay-up. The ball rimmed out and the Silver Wolves survived to defend their crown Saturday.
2) Double-doubles – After struggling offensively for much of the tournament, Molen finally seemed to find her game at the beginning of Friday’s fourth quarter. The BYU-bound senior came out with energy and led her team on a 6-0 surge to open the final stanza that looked like it might ice the game as Fremont built an 11-point advantage.
By the time the game was over, Molen had worked her way to a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
That was just the start of the double-double party Friday night, as a pair of Brighton players came along in the last game of the night and delivered their own big nights in the Bengals’ win over Riverton. McCall Christensen got off to a fast start on the glass, as she had seven boards before intermission. She scored nine points after the break and grabbed four more rebounds to finish with 15 and 11.
Dani Barton struggled with her shot early for Brighton, but got things going in the second half to finish with 10 points and 11 boards.
3) Barton update – Since she came into the arena pre-game in a walking boot to protect the ankle she injured Monday night, perhaps it was surprising that Barton was able to perform well enough at all to reach double-double territory. As the game progressed, Barton did seem to have a little more mobility and lift to her game and that showed as her shooting percentage was better late than it was early.
The big question now is recovery time. After the injury on Monday, she had an off day before playing again Wednesday, and then another day to rest it before coming back Friday. Saturday’s title game is less than 24 hours after the semifinal. Hopefully she is ready for one more run.
4) Shooting woes – If you are a fan of great shooting, Friday was not your day to watch Outside of Brighton, which connected on 56 percent of its shots in the second half and 44 percent overall, there were shooting struggles all around.
Riverton’s inability to make a run at the Bengals was largely hindered by the fact that the Silverwolves shot just 17 percent after halftime (24 percent for the game). The Fremont vs. American Fork game was marked with lackluster shooting – 31 percent for the Silver Wolves and 30 percent for the Lady Cavemen.
5) Brighton press break – Riverton had some limited success with full-court pressure in the second half Friday night, but with the Silverwolves’ inability to consistently hit shots, the benefits were not great enough. Also, the press gave Brighton a chance to show off its movement and passing skills.
The Bengal big players are as good as anyone at moving to the open space, seeing each other and making the next pass. It makes their press break a thing of beauty to watch. Of course it helps that one of those “big” players is their 5-foot-10 senior point guard Lindsey Johnson.
It is also likely an advantage for Brighton that it passes that way in its regular half-court sets, so the press just increases the available space.
6) Fremont vs. Brighton in the state final – Way back on Dec. 2, a pair of sophomores (Dani Barton and Brooke Ingles) combined for 48 points as Brighton used a big second half to knock off the defending state champions 71-55. It’s hard to compare teams from early in the season to now, especially when you consider that Fremont was breaking in new players along its front line while the Bengals returned all of those seniors, so what will this matchup look like.
Shelbee Molen has not been shooting well in the state tournament, and that likely needs to change if the Silver Wolves are going to repeat. The length and aggressiveness of the Brighton defenders could make that difficult. The Bengals are playing a lot of zone, particularly with Barton’s limitations on that end due to the injury, so if it is a half-court game, the perimeter shot will be critical for Fremont’s success.
More likely, the Silver Wolves may want to try to force turnovers or grab rebounds and push the ball in transition to get Harley Hansen and Molen going in the open court.
Brighton is comfortable running out or running its sets, and it will once again look to that passing game, post-to-post passing and all of its variations, to get easier looks at the rim. There will be a lot of talented players on the floor and it is sure to be an exciting matchup.