SALT LAKE CITY — Desert Hills coach Steve Melessa has talked a lot this year about his program taking the next step.
When the school opened three years ago the boys basketball team finished with a 4-16 record. Last year the Thunder improved immensely with a 16-8 record and an appearance in the 3A quarterfinals.
On Thursday, Desert Hills continued that natural progression with a 57-45 victory over Union at the Huntsman Center to punch its ticket to the 3A semifinals.
It will face Morgan at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.
"Last year was invaluable for these kids to get that experience," said Desert Hills coach Steve Melessa.
Four different players scored in double figures for Desert Hills, which broke open a close game by outscoring Union 26-12 in the third quarter.
"That's what we've preached and felt like our strong point all year long is we do have a balanced team, inside-outside, we also have a deep team," said Melessa. "That's what's won us a lot of games this year is depth."
Despite a losing record at 8-12, the Cougars came into the game winners of four of their last five and Desert Hills refused to take them lightly.
Union knocked down a couple of 3-pointers early in the game, but Desert Hills capitalized on its significant height advantage to take a 27-21 halftime lead. The advantage rapidly ballooned to 20 points with a dominant third quarter.
During one stretch of the quarter the Thunder made six straight baskets to increase the lead from 29-25 to 42-30. Tanner Atkin buried back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third to up the advantage to 50-33.
"We told the kids we'd like to still put a full game together. We haven't really done that all year," said Melessa. "We've played maybe three quarters, too many games two and a half quarters."
Desert Hills finished the game shooting 52 percent and held Union to 10 points below its season average by limiting the Cougars to 30 percent.
Union actually led 13-12 after the first quarter, but it couldn't sustain the momentum as Desert Hills finished with a staggering 42-16 edge in the paint.
Colton Jacobson led Union with 12 points and 11 rebounds in the loss.