High school boys basketball: Third-quarter spurt propels Wasatch Wasps past Dons and into 3A semis

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 7:40 p.m. MST

OGDEN — Back in early January, when the Wasatch High boys basketball team was limping along with an uncharacteristic 3-11 record, nobody associated with the Wasps’ tradition-rich program panicked.

After all, those games in December don’t matter nearly as much as the ones you get to play in February. And a school like Wasatch, with six boys state basketball championships to its credit, certainly knows that, so the Wasps weren’t about to push the panic button back then.

And certainly not now, either.

So, speaking of meaningful games in February, Wasatch won another one Thursday, using a key third-quarter scoring spurt that paved the way for a 46-36 victory over Spanish Fork in the quarterfinals of the 3A state tournament at the Dee Events Center.

With the win, the Wasps’ eighth in their last 10 games, they advance into Friday's 3A semifinals against powerful Morgan. Tipoff for that matchup is 9:10 p.m. at the DEC.

And there you’ll find Wasatch, a team without superstars, but one whose determination and desire defy its 11-13 season record.

“There is a great tradition there, there is, and there’s a lot of expectations,” Wasatch coach Lonnie Magnusson said of his program. “But for most of (his players), they watch those previous teams coming up through and they want to be a part of that. That’s every kid’s dream is to be part of that tradition.

“There were kids that wanted to be that go-to guy but realized early on that maybe it just wasn’t their job. So they’re all filling their roles now. Different guys step up on a different night, and it’s been great. The kids are doing great.

“I knew we could be OK,” Magnusson said of his team’s slow start this season. “Did we have that one guy that at times you need, that go-to guy? No. But as we started to gel after Christmas, you could kind of see yeah, we might have a chance to do this. And the kids started to believe in themselves, and that’s a big part of it. If the kids believe in themselves, that’s huge.”

Senior forward Chris Johnson played a big role in Thursday’s low-scoring, grind-it-out victory, as he had a game-high 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds to help the Wasps beat the Dons on the boards by a decisive 39-27 margin.

“This is about the most aggressive I’ve seen him play all year,” coach Magnusson said of Johnson. “He came out aggressive right from the get-go and set the tone; he set the tone for the game and just did a great job tonight.”

Johnson pointed at the Wasps’ desire as the key to their late-season surge.

“I think that these past couple games, we’ve played so much better just because we’ve focused so much on the desire,” he said. “We’ve really had a huge desire.

“We’re planning on taking state — that’s our goal. We remember last year when we lost in the first round of the playoffs, so we kind of have that chip on our shoulder and definitely have big expectations.

“It just feels really good to have made the improvement that we have,” Johnson said. “I think that there might’ve been some people who doubted us, but as a team we’ve really tried to stay positive. And for me personally, I never doubted us.”

Junior forward Ben Pelo had six points and nine rebounds for Wasatch, and junior guard Jeff Murdock added six points, four boards and four assists.

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