SANDY — There's always more bite in a rivalry game, which was certainly the case when Alta's boys basketball team hosted Jordan on Tuesday night.
In a game that was called tightly throughout, Jordan did most of the biting as it struggled to adjust to both the officiating and Alta's suffocating defense.
With Jordan coach Rob Geertsen chalking it up to "one of those nights," Alta coach Jim Barker couldn't help but grin with a bit more satisfaction than normal following his team's 52-36 victory. Outside of an insignificant technical foul late in the game, the Hawks kept their cool and defensively harassed the 'Diggers into shooting just 23 percent from the field as they scored 30 points below their average.
"We know Jordan. It's always going to be a brutal, tough game, and there's going to be a lot of physical play, but I think our kids rose to the challenge tonight," said Barker. "I think that's the one thing we've done pretty well all season, we've adjusted to whatever type of officiated game it is."
Alta improved to 2-0 in region play with the victory, but Barker was just as pleased to see his players finally relax.
With his team clinging to a 17-15 lead following a sloppy first half, Barker told his players to play confidently and stop being so afraid to fail. Sure enough, Alta came out and scored five quick points to open up a 22-15 lead and it never led by less than five points the rest of the game.
"We were much more aggressive and played without a fear of making mistakes," said Barker.
Following a first half in which his team committed seven offensive fouls and made just 4 of 15 shots, Geertsen had a different message for his players at the half.
"At halftime, that's all we talked about was trying to adjust to the way the game was being called and played, and in the second half we weren't able to make the adjustments to play in a game like that," said Geertsen.
Alta's game plan going in was to make things difficult for Jordan, and no one was immune from the struggles.
Leading scorer Ryan Nemelka, who averages nearly 15 points, dealt with foul trouble all night and left the game for good early in the fourth quarter with just four points and one 3-pointer. He'd made 34 3-pointers entering the game.
"They have a lot of kids who can shoot, so we were just focused on being solid, get a hand up on shooters and battle through screens," said Barker.
The frustration finally boiled over for Jordan with 3:02 remaining in the game when Trent Neilson was whistled for a flagrant foul while trying to slow down an Alta fast break.
Zack Zdunich led Alta with 13 points, while Jarett Anderson chipped in with 10 points and a pair of 3-pointers.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company