MIDVALE — Through five games prior to Tuesday's nonregion clash at Hillcrest, Northridge's boys basketball team hadn't faced a zone defense yet this year. Coach Chad Sims admitted he was very anxious to see how his players would respond.
It took the Knights a while to figure things out, but once they did they methodically pulled away from Hillcrest for the 48-42 victory, their third straight since an 0-3 start to the season.
"For us, it's just been a matter of finding out who we are, what we want to be, our identity a little bit. The kids have played really well, the kids have bought into it, and it's worked well the past three games," said Sims.
After beating Jordan in the championship game of the Jordan Holiday Tournament last Saturday, Sims wanted to see his team build on that momentum against a gritty Hillcrest team.
Scoring a paltry five points in the first quarter wasn't what he had in mind, but it was understandable considering the circumstances.
"We hadn't played a zone team yet this year, and we knew it would take some time to figure out where we're supposed to be and when we're supposed to be there," said Sims.
While Northridge struggled with Hillcrest's defense, the reverse was also true as Hillcrest struggled with Northridge's interior size with neither team breaking 20 points in the first half.
Leading 18-14 at halftime, Northridge knocked down five of its first seven shots in the third quarter, but Hillcrest was more efficient, as well, as 3-pointers by Ben Katzenbach and Hunter Adams helped the Huskies tie the game at 29-29 with 2:25 remaining in the quarter.
Just over a minute later, Northridge regained the lead for good on back-to-back 3-pointers by sophomore Jacob Bigler.
"He's a good shooter, good player, and he's just been waiting for the right time," said Sims.
Northridge maintained that 35-29 leading heading into the fourth quarter, and with Hillcrest only making 3-of-8 shots down the stretch, as well as missing the front end of two one-and-one situations, the Knight's lead never dipped below four points and increased to as many as 10.
"We learned how to finish games over at that Jordan Tournament, which was huge," said Northridge's Karson Casteel, who finished with a game-high 13 points. "We were in a close game in all three losses, we just couldn't finish them."
Even though Northridge only shot 39 percent for the game and 12 of 19 from the free-throw line, it made up for it in several other facets of the game. Sims thought his big men did a great job defending the perimeter against Hillcrest's smaller guard-oriented lineup.
Only turning it over nine times when 20-plus turnovers were the norm in the first three games was a huge step forward as well.
"We want to cut down on turnovers and take care of the basketball, be a little more efficient offensively, and I think that will come with more repetition and more games," said Sims.
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