WEST VALLEY CITY Wasatch's goals this season were pretty simple. The Wasps just wanted to make the state tournament, play tough in February and see what happened after that.
Those modest aspirations turned into one of the most dominant seasons in 3A girls basketball history.
Wasatch a school with two 24-1 seasons to its credit in the past seven years put the finishing touches on a perfect 25-0 season Saturday night with a gutty 55-49 victory over the resilient Judge Bulldogs at the E Center.
It was Wasatch's third state title since 1996, and the first undefeated season in 3A since Morgan went 25-0 in the 2002-03 season.
"I've had two 24-1 seasons, and to have a 25-0 is the epitome of what you're in it for," said Wasatch coach Roger Pyper. "If you can get kids to play hard in any sport for the whole season and not let down to lose a game or two, then you know you've done your job. And as an educator that's as good as it gets."
The victory was Wasatch's third over Judge this season, but it was definitely the toughest. In advancing to the state title game with wins over Emery and Morgan, the Bulldogs proved no deficit insurmountable. They nearly made it a comeback trifecta against Wasatch.
Leading by nine at the half, Wasatch opened up a 35-18 lead midway through the third quarter and a Judge rally seemed highly unlikely. Amazingly, however, Judge whittled away at the deficit using the same no-quit attitude it did all season.
By the end of the third quarter the Bulldogs whittled the lead to 11. On several occasions in the fourth quarter it trimmed the margin to six. In the final 30 seconds, Judge cut the lead to 53-49 and following a turnover had two good looks to make it a two-point game.
"Wasatch is the hardest team to come back on. They get up and run that spread and go to the free throw line and make free throws," said Judge coach Jeremy Chatterton. "We just couldn't hit that shot to get us over the hump. We had good looks, momentum-type plays that if we hit this everything might change. But we just couldn't get that one to drop."
Turnovers were the story of the game. It's how Wasatch built its big lead in the first place, and it's what fueled Judge's comeback. Wasatch committed 25 turnovers to Judge's 22.
Judge guard Tara Gehring accounted for nine of those turnovers, but she more than made up for it with eight steals, 24 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the free throw line and seven rebounds.
While trying to stop the bleeding on a small cut on her lip courtesy of the championship trophy, Gehring said, "We knew we had to step up and win this game. We know it's hard to (beat the same team) three times."
Many of Gehring's steals came in the second and third quarters as Wasatch's pressure defense led to several easy baskets.
"I think the main thing is we were finally able to get some lay-ups," said Pyper. "Finally in second quarter, we were able to get some steals and get some rebounds and get them kicked out and get about three or four lay-ups. We got fouled on a couple of them, and that just gave us that push."
Chatterton thinks his players got caught ball-watching a bit too much, leading to a lot of the transition points.
In addition to Gehring's big game, Kimberly Parker added 13 points and eight rebounds while Karin Cottle, starting in place of the injured Alyson Baird, chipped in with five points in 32 minutes."Our little back up came in and did a heck of a job," said Pyper.
Top performer: Wasatch senior Tara Gehring added eight steals and seven rebounds to her 24 points.
Key stat: In a game where virtually every statistical category was even, Wasatch shot 56 percent compared with 33 for Judge.
3A Girls all-tourney team
MVP: Tara Gehring, Wasatch
Tina Fakahafua, Judge
Chelsey Garfield, Morgan
Erica Martinez, Judge
Kimberly Parker, Wasatch
MaKayle Price, Wasatch
E-mail: [email protected]