BOUNTIFUL — Despite graduating all but one starter from last year's championship team, Highland is a good shooting team that will factor in the 4A race again this year.
On nights the Rams don't shoot well though, which was certainly the case Wednesday night at Viewmont, they're more than capable of getting the job done defensively.
In what was a typical scrappy season opener for both teams, Highland's tenacious defense forced 25 turnovers as it jumped out to an early lead and never relinquished it en route to the 51-44 victory.
"It wasn't pretty, neither team played great in first game. After Thanksgiving break, after you take four days off, you expect to be a little sloppy, and we were, but I'm pleased," said Highland coach Keith West.
David Divver led the way with 19 points, while Liam Thomas chipped in with 16 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
For a Highland team that won't get injured starting big man Max Bradshaw back on the court for another week or so, it was a great way to start the season.
Scoring runs to start the first and fourth quarters proved to be the difference on a night Highland shot 37 percent, including just 5 of 20 from 3-point range.
Led by Thomas, Highland got off to a quick start, opening the game on an 11-0 scoring run.
"You take the momentum right from the beginning and it's hard for teams to get back the momentum," said Divver.
Viewmont, which returns three starters but lost all-state big man Blake Wilkinson, clawed back to 14-13 early in the second quarter and only trailed 27-21 at the half.
Highland maintained its 6-to-8 point cushion throughout the third quarter, but pushed it to 42-29 early in the fourth quarter as Divver capitalized on a couple of quick steals, scoring seven straight points in a span of about 30 seconds.
"Little Divver can get up into you pretty good, he's got great hands and you've got to be pretty careful with the ball when he's guarding you 'cause he can take you," said West.
Viewmont whittled the lead to 45-41 with 2:16 remaining in the game as Highland got a bit careless with the ball despite the double-digit lead, but that was as close as it could get as the visitors made 5-of-8 free throws in the final minutes.
"We kind of lost our brains there for a little while, for about two or three minutes we didn't realize we ahead 10 or 11, there's no rush," said West. "But that's first-game stuff."
Some late turnovers were a problem as well for the Vikings, as Highland finished with 15 steals led by four each from Todd Connolly and Lennon Betonney.
In the loss, McKay Richins led Viewmont with 12 points while Brody Bagshaw chipped in with 11 as the Vikings shot 42 percent from the field.
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