SPANISH FORK — Wasatch Academy (15-3, 6-1), the top-ranked team in Class 1A, has a reputation of hitting its opponents hard in the opening minutes of a game and then finishing them off in the early minutes of the second half.
True to their reputation, the Tigers came out early and landed a couple solid blows against their Region 18 nemesis Liahona Academy Tuesday night, but the Warriors (17-4, 7-1) would not go down.
Liahona withstood a 7-1 Wasatch Academy start in the first period and a 6-2 flurry to begin the second half and eventually came from behind in the fourth period to win 58-55.
With the Liahona win, the two teams are now tied atop the region standings, and should Wasatch Academy beat Dugway (2-15, 2-5) Thursday, the Tigers and Warriors would most likely meet again on Saturday to decide the region championship.
Liahona’s Brayden Facemyer scored a game-high 18 points — 10 of which coming in the first quarter when the Warriors whittled a six-point deficit down to two to end the quarter to trail 16-14.
Down by five at the end of the third quarter, Liahona went on a 5-0 run in the first 1:50 of the quarter to tie the score at 49.
With 4:13 left in the quarter, Skeete fed Kaba on the low post for a 3-point play the old-fashioned way. Thirty-one seconds later Garrett Crosby scored his only two points of the game and Wasatch Academy built a five-point lead.
Liahona’s balanced attack caused problems for Wasatch Academy throughout the game. In addition to Facemyer’s game-high 18 points Brandon Nichols added 16 and Matt Comer came off the bench to score 13.
With his team down by five, Nichols went on a personal five-point run to tie the score at 54 with 2:05 remaining in the game.
In the closing minutes Wasatch Academy tried on two occasions to return to its two-man isolation. In both cases Facemyer shut down Skeete's attempts to create a shot and force the entry pass into Kaba. As Kaba jockeyed for position Facemyer doubled down and slapped his shots away from behind.
Facemyer and Nichols went a combined 4-of-6 from the free-throw line in the closing 52 seconds to seal the victory for the Warriors.
“It was truly a team win,” said Facemyer. “We all worked really hard to beat a very good team tonight.”
Liahona fans stormed the court to celebrate their piece of the championship. The atmosphere was in sharp contrast to four days earlier when these same fans stood shocked as the visiting Rich Rebels upset the then second-ranked Warriors 54-51. The loss knocked Liahona out of the state rankings.
“It was the hardest two days of practice we have had all year,” said Nichols referring to the two practices between Thursday’s loss and Tuesday’s win. “ We are back on track and playing our game...We beat a very good team tonight.”
“I think we saw two great teams with two great fan bases play tonight,” said Liahona coach Jeremy Long. “What a game, what an atmosphere.”
It was senior night for nine Liahona basketball players, many of which have played under Long during his four years with the Warriors.
Early in his career, Kevin Long spent seven years as a community newspaper editor. He is the father of Liahona basketball coach Jeremy Long.