High school boys basketball: Pleasant Grove Vikings take down Alta Hawks in 5A quarterfinal clash
SALT LAKE CITY — What a difference a little time — and a lot more toughness — can make to a high school basketball team.
Three months ago, Alta handed Pleasant Grove a 65-54 preseason loss — one of just three defeats the Vikings have suffered all season long. What's more, Alta did its damage on Pleasant Grove's home court.
Fast forward three months, and the same two teams were tangling again Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the 5A state tournament at the University of Utah's Huntsman Center.
But this time, it was a much, much different story.
Senior forward Matt Conway scored 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, and the hot-shooting Vikings also got double-digit scoring from Forrest Pincock, Riley Court and Mark Sheffield in an impressive 78-55 victory over the Hawks, vaulting Pleasant Grove (22-3) into Friday's tourney semifinals.
"It doesn't feel like a blowout, to be honest with you,” Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister said. "We're up 20 with two minutes left and I'm still stressing out.
"That's a really good (Alta) team. We played them early in the year, the third game of the year, so we knew what they were about and how good they were and saw what they did to their region. So we were fully prepared for a battle tonight and we got one."
So what did the Vikings learn from that early-season matchup that might've helped them in Thursday's rematch?
"I learned that we aren't very tough," McAllister said. "We weren't tough and the kids knew that. They got pushed around and Alta's always been a physical team and plays a physical brand of basketball. And our kids learned from that.
"They watched the film the other night and they turned to me and said, 'Coach, we don't recognize ourselves. That doesn't look like us.' And I said, 'You're right. We're not that team anymore.' I thought tonight they stepped up and battled them a lot better."
Conway agreed that he and his teammates learned their lesson well from that early-season setback to the Hawks.
"The first time they played us, they caught us a little off-guard," he admitted. "We kinda got bullied inside because they just kept sending anyone to post up ... and we weren't tough enough as a team.
"And we really have changed into a completely different team, how we run our offense, how we run our defense, and how much more physical we play.
"Something we did in practice is we played five-on-six ... and the JV was allowed to foul us any way they want," Conway said of the way the Vikings toughened up. "They could just jump on us and you've gotta score, and if you don't score, you lose and you run. So you've gotta find a way to win."
They certainly found a way to win, and win convincingly, on Thursday, and next the Vikings will face Region 4 rival American Fork Friday evening at 7:30 p.m., with the winner playing for the state championship on Saturday afternoon.
Pleasant Grove has now won 10 of its last 11 games, the lone loss during that span coming by a score of 63-56 on Feb. 25 to the same American Fork team the Vikings will face in Friday's semifinal showdown.
Conway was 5 of 9 from the field and, more importantly, 15 of 18 from the foul line on his way to 25 points. In the third quarter, he scored seven points in a 12-0 run that turned the Vikings' 41-33 lead into a commanding 53-33 advantage that the Hawks could never recover from. "He's been playing that way for about three months,” McAllister said of Conway. "He's a good player.