Of all the favorites who take the floor Friday night in the opening round of the 3A girls basketball state tournament, Morgan figures to be the most mentally ready.
Both as a head coach and assistant, Morgan’s Brad Matthews has watched in disbelief in past tourneys as his top-seeded team bowed out in the first round against an opponent it should’ve realistically beat by 20-plus.
That type of sting lingers for years, and you can bet it’s something Matthews has reminded his players about as heavily favored Morgan (20-1) hosts Richfield (6-14) this Friday.
“These play-in games, it doesn’t matter what kind of team you have, it’s a stressful game,” said Matthews. “I know the importance of getting your team prepared for this first game. You gotta make sure you get all the jitters out.”
As is customary in 3A, the eight first-round games will be played at the higher seed. The final three rounds shift to Southern Utah University Feb. 27-March 1.
The desire to play at the college venue in front of large crowds is what makes the first round so stressful, a reason upsets often happen.
Bear River’s Van Park has coached in countless tournament games as both a boys and girls coach through the years, and he jokes that he still isn’t sure how to prepare his players for the anxiety of the first round.
“That’s the million-dollar question of how to get the girls not to worry about that when they all so want to get to the college venue,” said Park. “But we try and preach all year that you worry about the process and do what you can do and let the W's take care of themselves.”
Region 11 co-champ Bear River (15-7) hosts Cedar (12-10) in an intriguing first-round game Friday — one of just two pitting teams with winning records. The other features fellow Region 11 co-champ Stansbury (14-8) against Snow Canyon (11-9).
The only other potentially intriguing opener is Carbon (11-12) and Juan Diego (17-4). Carbon’s history of success and a strong defense gives the Dinos hope for an upset.
The other five games — Union at Juab, Grantsville at Desert Hills, Tooele at Hurricane, Park City at North Sanpete and Richfield at Morgan — all seem to be big mismatches.
North Sanpete is one of the surprise teams of the 2013-14 season. The Hawks haven’t won a playoff game since 2004, but they posted a 17-3 record this year and are good enough to make a deep playoff run.
The deeper the tournament goes though, No. 1 Desert Hills and No. 2 Morgan — both 20-win teams — seem to be on a collision course for a championship game showdown.