(The press) is kind of our identity. We are not a big team, but we are quick and athletic. We try to play to that strength. —Copper Hills head coach Ben Morley
SALT LAKE CITY — Basketball, more than any other sport, relies heavily on the height of its players. The taller the team, the more likely to dominate the competition. The Copper Hills Grizzlies, according to head coach Ben Morley, aren’t exactly blessed in terms of their size (they boast just two players, Taela Laufiso and Carlin Shepherd, who are 6 feet tall), but they have found a way to make up for it.
“(The press) is kind of our identity,” said Morley. “We are not a big team, but we are quick and athletic. We try to play to that strength.”
The Grizzlies' full-court press was on display Thursday night at West High School, much to the dismay of the Panthers.
Led by their stifling and pressure-packed defense, as well as the combined scoring punch of Breaunna Gillen and Eleyana Tafisi, Copper Hills defeated West 67-38.
Gillen and Tafisi each scored 13 points to lead the way for the Grizzlies, while Amberly Lazenby chipped in 11.
The Panthers, meanwhile, were paced in defeat by Brianna White, who scored a game-high 15 points.
The Grizzlies' full-court press was apparent from the outset, as Copper Hills forced multiple West turnovers to start the contest. Those Panther miscues enabled the visitors to jump out to a 12-0 lead in just under three minutes of play.
“We knew from the beginning that we had to come out strong and be more aggressive than them,” said Tafisi. “It always starts on defense for us.”
“The thing I was most pleased with was that we started the game strong,” added Morley. “We didn’t do that in our first couple of games, but to come on the road like this and start the game strong, that really set the tone and tempo we wanted to play with. It was huge.”
No player was more important in the opening minutes than Tafisi, who accounted for half of the points scored in that early run.
“That gave us an extra boost, but it doesn’t matter about the score,” said Tafisi, deflecting credit for her play. “All that matters is how hard we tried.”
West rallied after the initial Copper Hills surge, thanks to the play of White (the senior scored seven points in the first quarter), but only enough to stop the bleeding.
At the end of the first quarter, the Grizzlies led 23-11 and appeared well on their way to victory.
West made a game of it in the second frame, playing almost even with Copper Hills. White again played a large role, scoring four more points, and Katelyn Stubbs chipped in with a 3-pointer.
As for the Grizzlies, the second quarter was one to forget.
“We didn’t like the way we finished the second quarter, we thought we got out of control a little bit,” said Morley. “We started to rush our passes and started making passes without looking at it first.”
Even with the sloppiness, the visitors won the quarter, thanks to the play of Gillen. The junior scored almost half of her total points in the second, helping Copper Hills take a 14-point lead into the break.
The third quarter brought the return of the Grizzly full-court press, with almost an identical result.
Copper Hills outscored West by 10 points in the period, thanks to a 9-to-0 run. Tafisi again scored and assisted during the surge.
“We were just sharing (the ball) and playing as a team,” said Tafisi.
From that point on, it was all Copper Hills, thanks to their defense, which held the Panthers to just 18 second-half points, including a measly seven in the fourth quarter.
“We pride ourselves on playing good team defense,” said Morley. “There are a lot of X’s and O’s involved, but it (really) just comes down to effort.
“Most of the time when two good teams play, the team that plays harder wins,” Morley added. “West played hard, but our girls consistently got after it and were able to establish the type of tempo that we wanted in the game.”
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