SANDY If you're going to lace 'em up and play Spanish Fork, or any team in Utah County according to Alta coach Jim Barker, you better come out and play tough because your opponent will.
The Hawks shied away from that physical play early on Tuesday night, and not coincidentally No. 5 Spanish Fork opened up a first-half, double-digit lead and seemed poised to keep its undefeated record in tact.
"If it's physical, you've got to be able to play that way," said Barker, recalling a time-out chat with his team.
Alta finally stepped up the intensity, in addition to demonstrating patience on offense in rallying for a 61-58 victory over the Dons.
"We beat a good team, we've just got to get tougher mentally," said Barker. "Right now we play that soft 3-point game too much."
"We went through a stretch of five or six minutes where we struggled scoring, we weren't patient, taking quick shots," said Barker. "I think the biggest thing was settling down and working the ball around a little bit."
Trailing 20-10 midway through the second quarter, Alta closed the half on a 13-6 run with all but two points coming from either the paint or the free throw line.
Alta continued to match Spanish Fork's aggressiveness in the second half, and it finally paid off at the midpoint of the third quarter as a Taylor Runia jumper put the Hawks in front 37-35. Alta tied the game up just a few seconds earlier as Parker Walbeck knocked down a pair of free throws, the result of a technical foul on Spanish Fork coach Mark Bailey.
Those free throws kick-started a 10-0 run as Alta extended its lead to 43-35 before Spanish Fork finally halted its three-minute scoring drought.
The Hawks opened up their biggest lead of the game at 51-40 with 3:13 remaining, but that's when free throw shooting began to let them down. Over the next two minutes Alta missed the front end of three straight one-and-ones, and Spanish Fork capitalized whittling the deficit down to 55-52 on a 3-pointer by Dallin Naulu with 43 seconds remaining.
It was Naulu's fourth trey of the game as he finished with 20 points, but Alta preserved the victory by knocking down 6-of-8 free throws during those final 43 seconds.
Naulu's fifth 3-pointer came at the buzzer as Spanish Fork finished the game making 19-of-47 field goals and 12-of-24 free throws.
Alta was led by Runia's 19 points and 16 more from Walbeck.