SALT LAKE CITY — In the first meeting, Emery handled Juab. The second — the Wasps returned the gesture. Both region meetings came down to the wire, and the third was expected to be much of the same.
That hypothesis proved wrong, as Emery rode an early scoring outburst in the first quarter of the 3A girls semifinal at the Jon M. Huntsman Center Friday to a convincing 52-33 win.
"This time of year I don't expect a 20-point game. We played them twice earlier and we split," said Emery coach Steven Gordon. "I thought if we could hit an outside shot (against their) zone, we'd have a good shot of beating them."
Emery's center Taylor Mann, who came into the contest as the 3A leading scorer averaging slightly over 21 points per game, was obviously the focus for both teams.
In the previous loss to Juab she was held to 11 points, which was her second worst outing of the year. On the first two possessions Friday, she muscled down two offensive rebounds for consecutive second chance layups.
Although the sequence wasn't spectacular, it changed the entire complexion of the game. Juab was then forced to clog the middle to help box Mann out, which left Emery's sharpshooters resting in corners.
With the newfound breathing room, Jessica Murray tied her season high with four 3-pointers. Two of which came in the opening minutes of the first period in opposite corners after the defense had been sucked in.
"That's been us all year. We try and pound it in first. Taylor's tough, she didn't play real well tonight but it sure opened up our guards from 3-point land," said Gordon. "Jessica Murray shot the ball extremely well. I prefer starting in the paint and that opens things up."
Mann finished with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) despite struggling from the floor.
Emery wasn't limited to offensive efficiency, but rather in every aspect of the game. Staying in a 2-3 zone for the entire contest, Juab struggled to find a rhythm.
Juab's two leading scorers Kiz Farrer and Tessa Bradford, who averaged a combined 26 points this year, were limited to seven apiece.
Juab, however, did make a miniature run to open the second half. After an Emery turnover, Kobe Farrer had migrated into the far-side corner, and immediately hit a trey. The ensuing possession, Bradford nailed a baby jumper from the elbow to cut the lead to 26-16 forcing the Spartans to call a much-needed timeout.
With Juab displaying an upped extended pressure, Emery's Blayr Jeffs caught an inbounds pass at the top of the key in 3-point territory. Then, rather than running a set play, the senior guard jab-stepped her defender who willingly took the bate in anticipation of a drive. With the extra space, and without hesitation, she flicked a rainbow that hit the back of the iron and sunk like an anchor.
After a Juab bucket the Wasps lined up in a half court trap, which was quickly identified by Jeffs. She instantly found Murray for another trey to end all hopes of a comeback.1 comment on this story
"It was huge. They had the momentum. They came out and got it to 10 and it was a panic scene," Gordon said. "Our girls had a little panic in their eyes and I think we just kind of quit playing. I think it was a heads up timeout and said 'hey lets go, we need to wake up and play. They're not going to lay down.'"
Jeffs scored 14 points, while Murray added 12.
With the win, Emery earned a third shot at Carbon in the championship bout at 5 p.m. today at the Huntsman Center. Carbon has won both meetings.
"The last two, three weeks we've really picked up our game and I think our girls have confidence and are playing well," remarked Gordon, "I think defense is going to be the key, our big post players in the paint need to pack (us down) like they have all year."