CEDAR CITY — Within a week of losing to Desert Hills by 22 points in last year’s 3A quarterfinals, Morgan’s girls basketball players were back at it.
Knowing that graduation wasn’t going to deplete Desert Hills’ roster anytime soon, Morgan’s returning starters realized the only way to beat the Thunder was to work even harder. This Saturday they’ll get a shot at redemption.
The Trojans booked their place in the 3A championship game with a workmanlike 58-48 semifinal victory over Region 12 champion North Sanpete at Southern Utah University on Friday. It’s the school’s first championship appearance since losing to Carbon in 2005.
After a sluggish first quarter and a half, Morgan’s pressure defense took control as it pulled away comfortably.
“That’s a tough game right there, coming out, not having our best game. I thought our girls came out and weathered that, got back to what we do and finished that game the way we should,” said Morgan coach Brad Matthews.
Morgan never trailed by more than five points in the first half, but its full-court pressure defense wasn’t causing North Sanpete fits like it has so many other teams. Instead, the Hawks were playing with tremendous confidence behind UVU-bound senior Taylor Gordon — who scored 11 of her game-high 22 points in the first half.
Late in the second quarter, though, Morgan’s press started to make a difference and helped it take a 28-24 halftime lead.
“Some teams really panic and they get in a deeper hole, but I thought our girls did a good job staying there and pulling themselves out of that hole with some good plays and some easy baskets,” said Matthews.
The Trojans didn’t waste any time building on that momentum in the second half, racing to a quick 34-24 lead and increasing it to 45-30 late in the quarter.
“We were just not having fun (in the first half),” said Morgan senior Breanna Hurlbut. “I think when our goal is to have fun we play so much better and we play as a team.”
Defensively, Morgan committed to double team Gordon as well in the second half, and her frustration spilled over to the rest of the team.
“We’ve known she can. She just hasn’t. It hasn’t happened for her. So it was great for her to finally come out of that slump and make some of those shots,” said Matthews.
Now the Trojans turn their attention to facing No. 1 Desert Hills, the best defensive team in 3A.
“We’re excited. Morgan’s not afraid to play anybody. We schedule the toughest teams all year — whoever will play us. We’re up for anybody,” said Matthews.