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High school basketball: Waterford pulls away in 3rd to reach 2A championship game

RICHFIELD – It is an old argument Neal Monson has heard all season.

Even after all of the success Waterford has enjoyed all season, Monson feels like there are still plenty of critics who lurk in the shadows waiting for the Ravens to fall so they can savor the moment.

"All year long, people have been saying that we're not that good and we're just a one-man team," Monson said. "Really, it is a team game and we're definitely a much better team than people give us credit for."

Once again, Monson and his teammates silenced those critics for another night.

The senior center scored 23 points to lead Waterford to a 51-34 victory over Kanab in the 2A boys basketball tournament on Friday night at the Sevier Valley Center. The win sends the Ravens to their first state title game since they won the 1A championship back in 2002.

Defense proved to be the difference maker once again for Waterford. The Ravens allowed Kanab to just shoot 29.5 percent from the floor – including a paltry 18 percent from three-point range.

Most of the time, it seemed like the Cowboys were completely flustered by the zone defense Waterford threw out of them and never really got into sync in either half.

That played right into the Ravens' hands, who wanted to slow the game down and rob Kanab of its explosiveness.

"What I was most afraid of were the runs," Waterford coach Reid Monson said. "Every game they've been in, you get a little bit up and all of the sudden an eight or 10 or 12 point explosion happens. You just have to keep them down."

Waterford had no such trouble on their end. The Ravens made nearly 50 percent of their shots and had a much easier time executing their offensive sets than Kanab did. It helped them pull away from the Cowboys in the second half.

After Kanab managed to cut Waterford's lead to four, at 29-25, in the third quarter, the Ravens went on a 13-0 run to effectively put the game out of reach.

Josh Nilsen started run by driving to the hoop for a layup with 4:04 remaining in the third. Neal Monson finished it off with back-to-back hook shots that gave the Ravens a 42-25 lead with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter.

Monson feels like Waterford made a statement with the dominant nature of their victory.

"People said we got lucky winning our region, but I don't really think we did just because we're a good team," Monson said.

Momentum swung back and forth wildly during the first half.

After Kanab staked out an early 8-3 advantage, Waterford used a 9-0 run – culminating on a jumper from Alex Mika – to take a 12-8 lead with 6:15 left in the second quarter. The Cowboys quickly answered back with a 6-0 spurt of their own. Rhees Jackson capped off the run by cutting to the basket for layups on back-to-back possessions and gave Kanab a 14-12 lead.

The Cowboys did not stay on top for long. Seth Monson buried a pair of 3-pointers to spark a 12-0 outburst. By the time Neal Monson finished it off with a layup, the Ravens held a 24-14 lead with 1:07 left before halftime.

e-mail: jcoon@desnews.com