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RIVERTON — The Alta Hawks had averaged 66 points in their first three games. At halftime of their game against Riverton Thursday night they'd managed a measly 10.
"I wasn't very nice at halftime," said Alta head coach Kristi Jensen after the second-ranked Hawks earned a thrilling 46-42 come-from-behind win against a tough, talented Riverton team. "That's probably the worst half of basketball I've seen in a long time."
Well, the worst from an Alta team. While the Hawks were tentative and very porous on defense, the Silverwolves were extremely aggressive in the paint and very effective with a half-court trap that stymied that prolific Hawk offense.
"We knew the trap was tough," said Jensen. "That's why we worked on it in practice. We spent an hour just on that!"
Once in the locker room Jensen asked her players if they were seeing something on the court for which they were unprepared.
They said no, so Jensen pleaded with them to play to their potential.
Senior and last year's 5A MVP Makenzi Morrison said she was as baffled as her coaches as to their play in the first half.
"At one point I had turned to my coaches and said, 'I don't know what to do,'" said the future BYU guard and the team's only returning varsity starter. "We just had a lack of intensity. They were playing us so tough defensively, and we had to do the same thing back to get them to respect us, and we just weren't. I felt like I had to stay back in case we had a turnover."
"The good news is that as bad as you played, we're only down by 10," Jensen said of her advice before they returned to the court. "I was really proud of the way we fought back and played in that second half."
While a little more intensity was obvious, the biggest change came from Jensen's decision to ask her girls to run their full-court press.
"We just put that press in this week," she said smiling. "We've worked on it for four days. … It totally changed everything."
Morrison decided the best way to help her teammates play intense was to turn up her own intensity. She finished with seven steals and 28 points, while senior Abbie Simons hit back-to-back baskets that tied the score with just over a minute left in the game.
Sophomore Chloe Ferre hit free throws that gave Alta the lead and then the Hawk defense kept the Silverwolves off the board.
Junior forward Whitney Saunders led Riverton with 19 points and 14 rebounds. She and her fellow post players kept Alta off the boards almost completely in the first half. Morgan Campbell, who scored seven, Andy Denos, who scored six and Gerika Ballard, who added eight points, and junior guard Jamie Smith were all key on the boards and defensively.
Morrison said it was a good learning experience for the team.
"It's how you finish a game that counts, not how you start one," she said. "We have work to do and we have to improve each game. It will help us to get through these kinds of situations."
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