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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Highland plays East High School in boys varsity basketball at East High in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. Highland won.

SALT LAKE CITY — Highland notched a big road win over rival East to remain undefeated in region play and serve notice that it's a legitimate contender in 4A. The Rams used a stifling defensive effort to frustrate the Leopards and deadeye shooting from behind the arc to hold them at bay in a 51-41 victory Friday.

Highland's defensive effort was particularly effective during at the outset of the first and third quarters. East went scoreless through the first four-and-a-half minutes of both quarters, though the Rams didn't take advantage in the first — scoring just two points during that time.

"We were too hyped up and we didn't run our stuff," said Highland coach Keith West of the early struggles. "They're high school kids and it was a big game for them so we came out a bit too hyped up because it was East.

"But they settled down."

That was evident in the third quarter.

Highland held East scoreless for the first four-and-a-half minutes in the third quarter, and this time took advantage of its stellar defense to quickly build a 32-17 lead.

"In the third quarter we just started executing our offense and we got wide-open looks," West said. "With the offense we run we're either going to get lay-ups or 3s. We ran some real simple plays and they were just late closing out on (them.)"

Henry Morris led the scoring for Highland in the third and finished with a game-high 14 points and four made 3-pointers.

"Offensively they know our best players are (David) Divver and (Riley) Tucker, so I think that left me with a lot of open shots," Morris said.

Earlier, the teams ended the first quarter in a 5-5 tie before finding better offensive success in the second quarter. Highland's Tucker provided most of his team's offense during that time — scoring 10 points and hitting on two 3-pointers in the final half of the quarter — to help his team to a 23-17 advantage at the half before it took control with the big third-quarter run.

East was led by future Utah Ute Parker Van Dyke and his 13 points, but he finished far below his season average. Highland focused much of its defensive effort in shutting down East's leading scorer and was able to do just that.

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"Parker is a great player. ... We used team defense and when Parker got the ball we made sure everyone kept their eyes on him," West said. "We had some other things, but I'm not going to tell you everything. ... It's about team defense and the guys got a good feel on how to defend him and did well in that tonight."

With the win Highland improves to 11-5 on the year and 4-0 on region play. It will next travel to take on Bountiful, which is also 4-0 in region.

"I wanted our game against Bountiful this Tuesday to mean something and I don't know if anyone can beat Bountiful, but we want the opportunity to play them for the region lead," West said.

With the loss East drops to 13-4 and 2-2 in region play. Next up for the Leopards is a home game against Cyprus on Tuesday.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney