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High school basketball: Roy's defense stifles Kearns in 5A girls opening round

KEARNS — A well-prepared and very balanced Roy team jumped all over the Kearns Cougars from the outset, taking a 15-point lead after the first quarter en route to a 53-37 win in the first round of the 5A state tournament Saturday.

The Royals, playing in their first 5A state game after being bumped up from 4A last year, used an aggressive man defense to continuously make the Kearns guards force the ball inside, collecting six first-quarter turnovers and 11 overall in the first two quarters.

"We do 35 minutes of strict defensive drills a day to prepare for situations like these," Roy coach Brock Randall said. "It's been a big jump from 4A to 5A this season, but we're ready and we're proud."

The Cougars couldn't buy a bucket in the first half while trying to handle Roy's defense, going eight scoreless minutes before senior Sa Afatasi broke the spell with back-to-back field goals with less than two minutes left in the second quarter.

On the flip side, the Royals systematically tore through the Kearns press at the beginning of both the first and second halves before the Cougars dropped it for a full-court hard-nosed man defense.

"We actually wanted them to continue to apply pressure," Randall said.

"Having teams like Syracuse in our region has really prepared us for tough man Ds, so we can handle them pretty adequately."

Roy shooting guard Aly Gray was 3-for-3 beyond the arc in the first half, leading the Royals with nine points. Customary leading scorer Alissa Willard tallied four assists and five boards by the break.

"Aly is my gym rat," Randall said. "She locks down practice every day — always the last to leave."

Despite being down as many as 23 points in the second half, the Cougars continued to chip away at the deficit through tenacious defense, particularly in the fourth quarter, and offensively attacking the hoop until shots started to fall.

Christen Lopez finished strong, leading Kearns with 13 points. Mary Luna paced the Cougars with the all-important intangibles: five boards and four steals with her eight points.

For Roy, Willard finished with a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds, Gray added 14 points and Jessyca Fulmer had 13.

"Alissa is a tough, versatile player," Randall said. "She gives more of an impression of a power scorer, but she does a good job of finding her teammates when they're open."

Roy advances to play at American Fork in the second round at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the first meeting between the two teams this season.

"We're not intimidated about state," Gray said. "We've worked hard in practice and we trust each other. We see it as we've got a lot of threats and we're going to use them."

e-mail: hbruce@desnews.com