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High school girls basketball: With 'nothing to lose,' Lone Peak upsets Alta in 5A tournament's first round

TAYLORSVILLE — Senior Kelsey McCann has learned a lot in just two years of playing for Lone Peak head coach Nancy Warner.

But maybe the most valuable piece of information she’ll use this week — and throughout her collegiate career — has nothing to do with the coach’s vast understanding of technique or strategy.

“I think always focusing on the next play,” McCann said after leading the third-seeded Knights to a 59-57 upset of second-seeded Alta in the first game of the 5A state tournament’s opening round. “If one thing doesn’t go right, instead of hanging our heads, we’re just focusing on the next play. I think that something our team has really struggled with before was getting down on ourselves. … Each of us (can) get frustrated (with) ourselves. I’m sure everyone does. You make a bad pass, miss a shot, you’re always kind of down on yourself.” But Warner’s constant admonition to play forward, without hesitation or fear, is what allows the Knights to shake that mental baggage that can hinder even the most talented players.

“That’s what keeps us going,” McCann said of that philosophy. “That’s what gets us on our rolls.”

McCann started the game on a roll that kept the Knights in the intense contest. She hit five 3-point shots in the first half and finished with six.

McCann said she loves to shoot and is grateful Warner trusts her enough to call plays specifically designed to help her find even more shots. But she said her success from long-range also opens up the paint for the Knights. She said that was part of the reason she only had one 3-point shot in the second half, although she finished with an impressive 22 points, six blocks and seven rebounds.

“I think our other teammates were getting to the basket and getting their shots,” she said of the second half.

The largest lead of the game belonged to Alta as the Hawks led by nine early in the second half. But Warner said she’d prepared her team for the fact that both squads would enjoy momentum shifts. The key was getting some defensive stops while taking advantage of their own momentum swings.

Alta was led by Elsa Ferre, who finished with 14 points, and Sierra McNicol, who added 11 points. In addition to McCann’s 22, the Knights received 10 points from Savannah Flanary and nine points from Aubrey Wilson, who also did some nice work defensively.

Warner said she doesn’t mind the 3-point shots, even when they don’t fall.

“I tell these girls to play free,” Warner said. “Let the game come and with (McCann), she’s a great player. I’ll take her shooting those. She’s money from the three. Luckily it was in our favor and she hit some big ones.”

Neither the coach nor the players are bothered by entering the tournament in the middle of the pack.

“Our region is tough from top to bottom,” Warner said. “Every night is a big game and preparing us for this exactly. … When it comes to this week, really it’s anybody’s game and those records don’t matter anymore.” McCann said Warner’s philosophy allows them to take risks without fear.

“I think that’s when none of us have nerves and nobody is panicking,” she said of what it means to play free. “We’re driving, shooting and doing what we do best. … We have nothing to lose. We just came out and had fun. We brought our intensity, and that’s what we talked about. Just having fun, doing what we can, playing the way we play and the best will come.”

The Knights will face defending 5A state champion Fremont at 7:30 p.m. in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

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