AMERICAN FORK — Neither Alta nor American Fork could have expected the first five minutes of the first quarter.
Both teams came out blistering hot offensively, combining for seven 3-pointers while shooting 9-of-10 from the field. At one point, there were nine straight possessions with a field goal. However, after the 16-16 start, normality settled in and the shooting percentages continued to decrease.
The Hawks, clamping down defensively, ultimately held the Cavemen (2-2) to two field goals in the third quarter, one coming as time expired, and escaped with a 58-51 win, despite their struggles at the free-throw line.
“I didn’t expect them to hit 3’s like that. We were kind of packing it in, first I was trying to go a triangle and two and pack it in to help inside, but their guys were hitting shots,” Alta coach Jim Barker said. “The funny thing is we were supposed to focus on (Ryan) Andrus, and he was the one hittin’ them. It was kind of a mental breakdown in the beginning, and once we got back to man (defense), I think it helped us.”
The defensive switch brought dividends for the Hawks. After allowing several uncontested 3-pointers to hit home and American Fork to start 5-for-6 from the field, Alta limited the Cavemen to 13-for-38 shooting from that point forward.
“We preach (defense) from the beginning. This group has had a lot to figure out. We’ve had a lot of weird things going on with us,” Barker said. “Landon Albrecht had a really bad sprained ankle, so we didn’t start him. But the other kids stepped up. We knew their focus was to go inside, so we tried to take that away and luckily for us it worked.”
After exchanging buckets, Alta took its first lead with 1:46 remaining in the half on Carter Heslop’s mid-range jumper. The Hawks added two freebies and a penetrating floater by Trevor Hill to take a 26-23 lead at the break.
“We haven’t shot the ball well this season,” Barker said. “Our defense is coming up and our shot selection is getting better, and if we do that we’re going to be in a lot of games.”
In the third quarter, Alta (3-3) tightened gaps on Andrus, both in the key and on the perimeter. The 6-foot-10 junior center entered the game averaging slightly more than 17 points per game and had already reached 11 points in the first half. With the added pressure on Andrus, the Cavemen stuttered offensively, which allowed Alta to extend its lead to double figures.
“We knew we needed to get it out of his hands. So as much as possible I was trying to double team him to get it out of his hands,” Barker said. “They were trying to be patient to get it to him, but the fact that we kept double teaming him it was tough for him to get comfortable. I thought just leaning on the kid, and hopefully tiring him out — we threw a lot of different bodies at him, and I think as time goes that constant pressure is why we ended up beating them.”
Trailing with time ticking away, the Cavemen employed the “hack-a-Hawk” technique, which nearly paid off. The Hawks shot 10-for-20 at the charity stripe down the stretch, which allowed American Fork to cut the lead to 56-51 with 12.4 seconds left.
“I have confidence we’re going to hit our free throws,” Barker said. “I told (his team) you got to get in that situation and learn how to hit them.”