SALT LAKE CITY — Winning a state championship can be as simple as playing defense and making free throws, and Wasatch does both better than anybody.
Despite suffering through arguably their worst offensive performance of the season in Saturday's 3A state championship at the Huntsman Center, the Wasps were able to persevere thanks to their best defensive performance of the year.
"It's a broken record to the guys, but offense sells tickets and defense wins championship. I truly believe that, and I know my players believe in that," said Wasatch coach Norm Hayter.
The proof is in the titles, and Wasatch has plenty of those.
Wasatch held Morgan to 37 points below its season average, and then knocked down 14-of-16 free throws in the fourth quarter to pull away for the 44-33 victory at the Huntsman Center — its second consecutive title and sixth in school history.
"This was a lot harder than the first time. To win back to back, you have that target. Everyone is giving you their best game throughout the season. You have your highs and lows, and you've got to stay focused as a team," said Hayter. "These guys showed a lot of maturity and a lot of focus all season."
Morgan's 33-point night was its lowest of the season. It was also the fewest points allowed by Wasatch, as it limited the Trojans to 26 percent shooting and 3-of-16 from 3-point range.
Wasatch struggled just as much offensively, and found itself in a dogfight, only leading 32-30 with 3:09 remaining in the game. That's when it began to pull away from the free-throw line as Mike Brown, McKay Murdock and Alex Probst combined on 14 straight makes to put the game away.
"We've been known to be a good free-throw shooting team because we practice a lot," said Brown, who finished with a game-high 18 points.
Brown's coach said it's not uncommon for guys like Brown or Murdock to make 96 or 97 out of 100 free throws in practice.
Long before free-throw shooting sealed the title, Wasatch's defense did the damage. It forced Morgan into three straight turnovers to start the game, and six by the end of the quarter. By halftime, the Trojans had committed nine and they finished with 16.
Morgan's troubles had a lot to do with Wasatch's tempo.
"Last night, we watched Morgan-Desert Hills, and Desert Hills played Morgan's game, really fast pace, kind of out of control, and we wanted to slow it down and make them run their offense instead of getting easy lay-ins by pushing," said Brown.
Despite only scoring 18 points in the first half, the mood in the Wasatch locker room at the half was all positive, as Morgan only scored 12 points.
Morgan was just as upbeat. It could've easily been run out of the Huntsman Center after turning it over nine times in the first half, but Morgan's defense was giving Wasatch just as much trouble.
Trailing 22-14 with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter, Morgan's Casey Evans, Boston Saunders, Jared Brooks and Dallin Schenk all scored baskets to help the Trojans close to within 24-23 by the end of the quarter.
Wasatch extended the lead to 28-23 early in the quarter, but Evans responded with a 3-pointer to whittle the deficit to 28-26. That's about the time Brown took over the game. He scored on three straight possessions, each one pushing Wasatch's lead from two to four points.15 comments on this story
Morgan couldn't keep up, and Wasatch pulled away in front of a huge crowd at the U.
"To see that kind of support by two communities, to really get behind it and support it, that's great. That's what high school basketball's all about," said Hayter.
It was such a big game, even BYU forward Logan Magnusson showed up to watch his alma mater after returning from San Diego.
In the loss, Evans led Morgan with 13 points and seven rebounds.
3A Boys All-Tournament Team
MVP — Mike Brown, Wasatch
Tanner Atkin, Desert Hills
Jared Brooks, Morgan
Casey Evans, Morgan
McKay Murdock, Wasatch
Mike Pelo, Wasatch