MOUNT PLEASANT — No. 1 Wasatch Academy jumped out to a 17-point first-quarter lead and then fought off repeated runs by second-ranked Liahona Academy to post a 76-59 victory and move into first place in Region 18.
Wasatch Academy’s 6-foot-7-inch center Insa Kaba wasted little time taking control of the paint. His Tigers jumped out to a 10-2 lead with 4:23 left in the quarter after he scored his eighth point. He finished the night with 14 points.
“It’s just my job,” said Kaba about his quick start. “It is what I do.”
“This was a great confidence game for him,” said Wasatch coach Geno Morgan. “He works as hard as any big man I have coached.”
The extra hours in the gym paid huge dividends for Kaba, who averages less than six points per game.
Ross Belliston scored the Warriors’ second basket of the quarter to pull Liahona to within six points midway through the period.
Enter Jarryn Skeete, Wasatch Academy’s 6-3 shooting guard. He scored six unanswered points, and 50 seconds later the score ballooned to 19-4.
“Jarryn is special,” Morgan said. “He is a coach's dream and capable of taking the game to a different level — not quite a Jimmer level, but still a different level.”
Skeete, who entered the game averaging just under 20 points per game, finished with 28 points, six steals and five assists.
The teams traded baskets to finish the quarter and the Tigers (10-2, 3-0) led 26-9. At the end of the half, the Tigers led 43-29.
Brandon Nichols led Liahona (11-3, 3-1) with 16 points, while Matt Comer added 11 and Ross Belliston and Brayden Facemyer added 10 each.
Facemyer, who entered the game averaging 20.7 points a game, did not start, but played most the game with his left hand in an orthopedic brace. He fractured his wrist in two places Wednesday night against Wendover.
Behind Skeete and Kaba, Mitko Kurtev added 10 points for Wasatch Academy.
“These are two very good Region 18 teams playing at a high level right now,” Morgan said.
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The league has two automatic bids to the state tournament this year, and it is expected that these two teams will fill those slots.
Liahona will host Region 19 contender Whitehorse on Wednesday, while Wasatch Academy will travel to Piute, a perennial contender in Region 20, next Saturday.
Liahona and Wasatch Academy will meet in the regular-season finale in Pleasant Grove on Feb. 22.
Kevin spent 7 years early in his career as a community newspaper editor. He is an avid 1A basketball fan and the father of Liahona coach Jeremy Long. He can be reached at email@example.com