TAYLORSVILLE — It’s been a long time since Hillcrest's girls basketball team has been a factor at a state tournament.
The Huskies, however, served noticed they they're a force to be reckoned with at this year's 4A tournament by thumping Cyprus, 45-31, in the first round Tuesday at Salt Lake Community College. Dominant frontcourt play and shutdown defense during a key second-quarter stretch paved the way for the convincing victory.
“This was a really big win,” said Hillcrest guard Whitney Nemelka. “Last year we made it to state for the first time in a really long time and for Hillcrest this is a really big step. We’re usually known as the team that’s the underdogs and no one ever talks about us or anything. ... But beating Cyprus — this feels good.”
Nemelka and Madison Shaw controlled the pace on both ends and received praise from coach Dave Richardson for their collective efforts.
“Nemelka should be first-team all-state, I think,” Richardson said. “I have two of the best guards in the state.”
Hillcrest fell behind 10-6 early but managed a 10-10 tie at the end of one quarter before completely owning the second period. The Huskies put on a defensive clinic in the quarter — yielding just two points to the Pirates to lead 23-12 at the half.
“People don’t score a lot of points on us and that’s what we stress,” Richardson said about his team’s defense. “In the last four days we practiced defense in four of them.”
Cyprus wasn’t done after the quarter, however, and put together a 9-2 run at the start of the second half to cut the score to 25-21. Hillcrest responded and quickly built the lead back up to double digits at the start of the fourth quarter before cruising to victory.
The Huskies were dominant in the frontcourt and particularly on the glass at both ends of the court. During one key possession in the third, they pulled down five consecutive rebounds before finally converting on a layup attempt.
“Lloyd had 16 rebounds in our last game against Herriman and she dominated again today,” Richardson said. “She’s tough, and she’s mean.”
Cyprus was led by Abby Barrett, who finished with a team-high 12 points.
Lloyd and her teammates were tough and resilient throughout, which is a bit of a departure from years past, according to Nemelka.
“We just don’t let people push us around,” she said. “Since my freshman year we’ve let people push us around, but this year I think we’ve realized that we need to start fighting back to be in games.”
Hillcrest will need to employ its best effort to date against undefeated Bonneville in the quarterfinals Thursday. But one thing's for sure: The Huskies aren't just happy to be there.
“It should be a good game and I’m excited,” Nemelka said.