OGDEN — Unfinished business.
Those words are written on plastic bracelets being worn by the Desert Hills High School girls basketball players and coaches this season, reminding them that in last year's state tournament, they came up one win short of taking home the coveted championship.
Well, the Thunder will get a chance to finish their business and earn some redemption today. They punched their ticket to a second straight state title game with a sweet revenge victory over Snow Canyon — the same team that knocked off Desert Hills for the 3A girls championship a year ago — in their state semifinal matchup at the Dee Events Center.
Friday's 40-30 win sends Region 9 champion Desert Hills (22-2) into today's tourney title game against league rival Dixie (17-7), which earned its berth in the finals with a gritty 33-31 win over Cedar in Friday's other semifinal showdown.
"That's kind of been our motto this season — unfinished business," said bright-eyed Desert Hills junior guard Blair Bliss, who scored a game-high 20 points and also grabbed five rebounds. "It's a good reminder about last year, and we don't want it to happen again.
"Getting back there has been our goal. Last year it was good for us to get that experience, but this year we're experienced so I think it should do better this year. I think we know what to expect now. We're still going to be a little nervous. I mean, we can't overlook Dixie; they're a great team and we know that, even though we've beaten them twice this year (by scores of 40-30 and 42-40). They still could surprise us so we've still got to go out and play our game.
"That's what we play basketball for is for these state games," she said. "That's why we go to practice every day and work so hard is for this (championship) game."
Haley Bodnar, the Thunder's 6-foot-3 junior center and season-long leading scorer, managed just four points in Friday's game against Snow Canyon, but she swatted away nine enemy shots, pulled down eight rebounds and swiped two steals on the defensive end of the floor. Whitni Atkin added seven points and Emily Seifert chipped in with seven boards and a couple of steals for Desert Hills.
"All season long, she's made it possible for us to pressure a little bit more on the perimeter and take some chances," Desert Hills coach Chris Allred said of Bodnar's towering presence, "because if they get past our guards, they have to run into her. So she alters a lot of shots and blocks a lot of shots, and a lot of times that leads to us getting some transition baskets."
The Thunder's defense was definitely the difference-maker in this game. Snow Canyon shot just 18 percent (9 of 50) from the field, and the Warriors' star guard Amy Harris — who had 20 points in last year's championship-game victory — managed 10 points this time, but struggled through a rough 2-of-23 shooting day from the field. Harris also had six rebounds.
"We're the No. 1 scoring defense in the state," Allred said, "so we do take a lot of pride and we work really hard on our defense. And for two years now, the girls have bought into being a defensive team. It's not real glamorous, but they take great pride in playing good defense and keeping teams from scoring and making it tough for 'em.
"That second half, more than anything, we were just focusing on not allowing them to get any easy looks and easy baskets. I got a little bit concerned down the stretch there when they started attacking the basket and we put 'em on the free-throw line a few times. But I felt like as long as we could keep that eight- to nine-point lead, then even if we were trading baskets I felt pretty good about it.
"But they made it difficult for us to execute some of our sets; they pushed us off the block a little bit; they double-teamed Haley. So we were having kind of a rough go and down the stretch it was a little chaotic. But we hung on and found a way to win," he said.
Desert Hills led just 5-3 after the first quarter, but Bliss fueled a 7-0 second-quarter spurt that helped the Thunder open up a 17-9 halftime lead. Desert Hills extended its lead to 26-14 at the third stop, and despite missing eight fourth-quarter free throws, the Thunder never led by less than seven the rest of the way.
"See these gray hairs? I didn't have half these before today," Allred said of his team's shaky 10-of-18 foul shooting in the final period. "We're a pretty good free-throw shooting team when we have to make them. I knew that if they had to keep fouling us that we'd make some shots.
"It's good to get back to the championship game again; we just don't want to finish second back-to-back. We're hoping. We're hoping ..."
Hoping that their unfinished business gets done the right way — with a glorious state title victory — this time.
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