TAYLORSVILLE — Sean Yeager has preached the importance of depth all season.
On Tuesday, in the first round of the 5A state tournament against Taylorsville, the Alta girls basketball team proved their coach right.
The Taylorsville Warriors took an early lead, but the Hawks turned to their full roster, getting points from 13 different kids in their 69-50 victory.
“That’s why we keep preaching having depth and relying on your teammates,” Yeager said. “We like to play aggressive, man defense, we like to press, we want it to be up-tempo — and we want to rely on our depth and hopefully wear teams out. That’s our mantra.”
The Hawks did exactly that to Taylorsville, using a full-game full-court press and taking the wind out of the Warriors’ sails. Taylorsville held a 13-5 lead after eight minutes and then Alta went on a 15-4 run across three minutes, using steals and fast-break opportunities to post a 22-point second quarter.
“I thought Taylorsville came to play, they played really well,” Yeager said. “They shot better from the perimeter than we had anticipated, that’s for sure," she said. Referring to Mattie Evensen, the Warriors’ 6-foot-2 center, Yeager said, "We knew they had a really strong post and that if we could limit her touches, we could limit her effectiveness, but when they were hitting those shots from the outside, it was stretching our defense a little bit.”
The Warriors hit just two 3-pointers — one by Kaitlyn Toluono and one by Katie Clarke — but had myriad long 2-pointers to stretch the Alta defense. Evensen was a force for Taylorsville on both ends of the floor, blocking shots, grabbing rebounds and hitting buckets. She finished with a team-best 16 points while Toluono had 15 and Clarke had five.
“They hung around,” Yeager said. “They play hard, they rebound well, and they get a lot of offensive rebounds. I thought we didn’t do a really good job of getting back. There’s a whole bunch of things I thought we could have done better, but a lot of that was because of Taylorsville and how they played.”
The second half of the game was filled with fast breaks, turnovers and fouls as both teams were fatigued from playing or facing full-court pressure throughout the contest.
“It might be our style to foul, but that’s not our purpose,” Yeager said when asked about the 51 combined free throws. “We definitely like to play hard and get after it, but I think when we get tired and start to reach, it results in fouls.”
The coached added that, in spite of the slow start, he knew his team would be able to keep fighting as the game progressed.
“One thing we always talk about with any of the kids, especially in this kind of situation (at state) is ‘next play, next play, next play,’ ” he said. “You can’t dwell on the past, even if it is good. ‘What are you doing next?’ ”
The Hawks will meet undefeated Riverton in the second round at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.