TAYLORSVILLE — Springville basketball coach Nancy Warner led her team to the locker room with a three-point lead over region rival Timpview and asked her players a question that would change the way they played the second half of the 4A state championship game.
"I asked them if they wanted to win this game," she said with a slight smile, "because they weren't playing like it. We just kind of laid it to them and said, 'You've got to step up and take care of the basketball. Get stops defensively. If we do that, we should find ourselves on the winning side.'"
Judging by their play in the second half, the top-ranked, undefeated Red Devils weren't about to experience their first loss in the title game. Their high-pressure defense and fast-paced offense helped them earn their third state title in four years with a 54-40 win over fifth-ranked Timpview on Saturday afternoon.
"We knew we needed to pick up our defense," said senior Savannah Park, who finished with 12 points, three rebounds and four steals. "I think our problem was, we were turning it over on offense. And they'd get easy transition baskets. They're a great transition basketball team. We just needed to limit our turnovers. This is our last game, our coach told us, and we needed to play like it. So that's what we came out and did."
The result was a dominating second-half performance.
The third quarter started with back-to-back steals from Park, which led to two points, and then senior Ashli Averett hit a 3-pointer that extended the Red Devils' lead to 31-24. Springville continued to pressure the T-Birds into mistakes until the Red Devils had a 13-point lead when senior Malia Nawahine hit a 3-point shot with about a minute and thirty seconds left in the third to make the score 41-28.
When the third quarter ended, the score was 47-30 in the Red Devils' favor. They never allowed the T-Birds to build any kind of momentum, regardless of who was on the floor.
Park said the team had a preseason goal to go undefeated. But they did it by focusing exclusively on the game at hand.
"It feels awesome," said Warner. "Honestly it doesn't feel like it's undefeated. We just took one game at a time. To be able to look back at what we've been able to accomplish, it's a great feeling. It's awesome."
Her players agreed, with some still unable to really believe they finished the year 25-0.
"It's so amazing," said Park. "It's hard to describe in words, but it's just so fun to have a team like this where we're all best friends. It was hard, but it was also a great experience."
Park and Nawahine said starting the tournament without a loss added a little more pressure to the task of winning four straight en route to a title.
"I think it did add a little bit of pressure, especially when we played Bonneville," said Park. "It was the two undefeated teams. ... Everybody built it up. But undefeated doesn't mean anything unless you take care of business on the last game of state, which is today."
In that decisive game, Nawahine led her team with 18 points, nine rebounds, two assists and three steals. When the game got tight, she got better.
"She's awesome," said Warner. "She's one of the best I've coached, and it's fun to be able to coach such a (high) caliber athlete. I'm so proud of what she's been able to accomplish at Springville."
Nawahine's play earned her Deseret News All-Tournament MVP, with her closest competition for the award coming from Park, who made it impossible for the T-Birds to get into any kind of offensive groove.
"She's just a hustler," said Warner of Park. "She just gets after it and is a competitor. I love watching her compete for our team."
Timpview had some stretches where it looked like it might be fighting its way back into the game. Lauryn Dela Cruz and Lyndie Haddock led the team both offensively and defensively. Haddock finished with 14 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists, while Dela Cruz added 14 points, five steals and two rebounds.
Timpview head coach Casey Cooke Sundquist reminded her players just how far they'd come in a single season, as the school didn't even make last year's 4A tournament.
"I told the girls, 'Whatever the outcome of this game, you've got to look at where we started and where we've finished,' " she said. "Nobody expected us to be here, and seriously, I'm so proud of my girls."
Nawahine was emotional as she reflected on the season. "This is the best team," she said. And the Utah-bound senior can name her favorite memory of the season without hesitation.
"That moment right there," she said, choking back emotion again, "the final buzzer."
Twitter: adonsports Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company