PROVO — The Kearns Cougars rushed out in the first half, taking advantage of their own disciplined game and the Timpview Thunderbirds' first-game jitters to take a huge advantage, and then held on tight in a much closer second half.

The Cougars walked away with a 48-39 win over a young Timpview squad that was playing in just its first game of the year. And it wasn't just a hot start for Kearns that led it to the victory. The Cougars played a solid inside game, played impressive defense and grabbed a bunch of important rebounds to keep their advantage.

"We may look short on paper, but I don't think we play short," said Kearns coach Emily Williams, whose team battled hard inside, cleaning up the glass with abandon. Most noticeable was Mary Luna, who led the team in a decisive second period with 13 points in a dominating performance.

"She's just a tough player. She's a leader on and off the court. She's really coming out this year and realizing what she can do out there," said Williams about the player who picked up all but two Kearns points in the second. The team finished the period with a 30-12 advantage.

And then came the third quarter.

The second half was a big change for the T-Birds and for the Cougars, especially on the T-Birds' defensive end. They held the Cougars to three points in the third quarter while scoring eight of their own and chopping into the lead bit by bit.

"We finally figured out hot to play in the second half. I think we just had a lot of nerves in the first half, and the lack of experience factor was big in the first game. The things we do in practice, we weren't doing out there," said Timpview coach Kawika Akina about his team's first half showing.

Then in the fourth period the T-Birds found their offense, as well, as they put up 19 points to the Cougars' 15 points and sliced into the lead a little bit more. They narrowed the margin to eight points twice in the fourth period before finally losing by 11.

Williams was unhappy with her team's second half performance, saying they'd played a chaotic 16 minutes after such a focused and disciplined first half.

Luna finished the game for Kearns with a game-high 16 points, and Micaelee Orton followed closely behind with 13. Christen Lopez and Fa Afatasi finished with eight and seven, respectively.

MaryAnne Morrow was the only T-Bird to reach double figures with 11, and Lani MacLennan added eight, while Sicily Bennett knocked down six.

Neither coach was happy with the free throw shooting as Timpview shot only 7 of 18 from the line, and the Cougars only hit 17 of 37 attempts.

"We've got to work on keeping our eyes up when we're dribbling, making free throws, and we can't play scared. If we play scared then things will happen like they did in the second half," Williams said asked about what her team will be working on heading into the regular season.

e-mail: jolsen@desnews.com