What this team has more than anything is chemistry. They love to play together and, I admit, they have some motivation to win it all. —Copper Hills coach Ben Morley
TAYLORSVILLE — Copper Hills coach Ben Morley said he didn’t intentionally arrange the most difficult non-region schedule possible this season, even though he admitted apologizing to his players' parents anyway.
Most of that preseason list of various schools are still playing in the postseason, including Pleasant Grove, and the Grizzlies turned in a near-perfect game in their 6A state tournament opener Tuesday by dismantling the Vikings 66-25 at Salt Lake Community College.
Breaunna Gillen scored 20 points, Amberly Lazenby had 12 and Emily Larsen 10 and the Grizzlies did not commit a turnover in the first half to advance to the second round Thursday against Layton, which defeated Kearns in the late game Tuesday.
“High-school basketball is so much about momentum,” said Morley. “Pleasant Grove gave us all we could handle last time (in the Grizzlies’ 56-47 win on Jan. 9). We knew this would be a battle and they had our attention.”
Copper Hills has been a basketball power for at least the last five years but has fallen in the tournament semifinals the last two seasons. This year, the Grizzlies improved their record to 21-2, but that doesn’t mean much to the team yet because they still don’t have that state-championship trophy.
“What this team has more than anything is chemistry,” Morley said. “They love to play together and, I admit, they have some motivation to win it all. We played very well tonight, but that doesn’t transfer to Thursday.”
Unlike in January, this tourney-tested Grizzlies squad dominated Pleasant Grove from the beginning.
Gillen’s 3-pointer in the game’s first minute may also have been a sign when the shot hit the back of the rim, bounced high and then fell through the net, putting a smile on her face, as well as her teammates, and a loud cheer from the Copper Hills bench.
“We wanted to come out strong,” said Gillen, who made 8 of 13 shots, including four treys.
“When the shots fell, we got confidence,” Morley noted. “We picked up a lot of that early.”
Copper Hills led 23-9 after the first quarter and kept expanding the lead.
Morley praised guard Eleyana Tafisi as the primary reason for the fast start.
Tafisi was credited with six assists and she was a factor defensively, too.
The Grizzlies shot almost 50 percent from the field, with no drop from 3-point range.
They eventually built the margin to 43 points, and not because Pleasant Grove played poorly.
The Vikings, the fourth seed from Region 4 with a 6-16 record, got impressive play from Eva Ongoongotau, Sydney Valgardson and Tasha Beckett. They shot 46 percent from the field in the first half but still trailed 40-17, as Copper Hills forced 15 turnovers and took the next step toward what they hope will be that elusive state title.
Bruce Smith grew up in Boise, Idaho, and is a longtime newspaper sports writer. He writes primarily high-school sports articles for the Deseret News.