TAYLORSVILLE — American Fork's losses in the 5A state semifinal and championship games in each of the last two years were far from a bust.
The Lady Cavemen learned from their shortcomings, gained invaluable playoff and championship experience and proved they are ready for another deep playoff run Tuesday afternoon.
Their tremendous depth and experience, athleticism, basketball IQ and swarming defense was far too much for No. 4 Mountain Crest as they cruised to a convincing 75-41 victory in the first round of the 5A playoffs at Salt Lake Community College.
“I think it’s (experience) an advantage, but every year you’ve still got to come out and that first game is always tough because the nerves kick in and all that happens. I think our style of play really helped us get into a flow, even when things weren’t hitting. Eventually, you start to get comfortable and rolling,” American Fork head coach Corey Clayton said.
Despite getting off to a cold start offensively, top-seeded American Fork relied on its constant defensive pressure to create several stops and turnovers, which then ignited its run-and-gun offense and established a rhythm.
The home team dominated the second and third quarters by a combined 21 points (39-18) and, after leading 42-22 at the break, took complete control with a 58-30 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t hitting our shots, but we just had a lot of shots. We knew we were going to do what we do and if they can deal with it, then good for them. But we’re counting on most teams not being able to deal with what we do defensively, which turns into offense,” said Clayton.
American Fork has an extremely deep bench, led by star guard Taylor Moeaki, Paige Farnsworth and Taylor Franson, and once Moeaki shook off her slow start and found her groove, she and her team were clicking on all cylinders.
“She (Moeaki) just scores. And when she isn’t hitting right away, we never get too concerned because we know within our system, she’s going to shoot until she gets hot. And then she’ll shoot to stay hot,” Clayton said.
Moeaki finished with a game-high 16 points while Farnsworth and Franson combined for 23 more in the win.
American Fork’s depth is off the charts and extremely hard to defend as it had an impressive 12 of its 15 total players find the box score.
“That’s why we do the things we do — because we can. We can get away with playing 12 or 15 players or whatever we have to,” said Clayton. “And that means in order for you to have fresh legs, you’re going to have to go deeper in your bench than you’re comfortable doing. So that’s a luxury that we’re happy to have.”
The Lady Cavemen continued to roll in the final eight minutes and outscored the visitors by 14 points in the second half, including a 17-11 run to end the game, en route to the blowout win.
American Fork will now advance to the 5A quarterfinals, where it is set to take on No. 2 Bingham Thursday night at 7:30 pm at Salt Lake Community College.
The Lady Cavemen edged the Miners 57-54 in a back-and-forth affair back on Dec. 8 and Clayton expects nothing less from them than another heated battle.
“It’s two totally different teams at this point. I think you throw that game out the window. Obviously, they’re a great program and I feel like we’re a great program, so that’ll definitely be a battle,” he said.
Ryan Love is a full-time student and has been a part-time sportswriter for Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724