Orem coach Perry Wildeboer had a feeling Tuesday’s region opener at Alta would be a tricky one for his undefeated squad.
Orem has overwhelmed a lot of opponents with length and athleticism, but Wildeboer knew Alta was one of the few teams that could actually match his team’s length and athleticism.
What Alta couldn’t match, however, was Orem’s mental toughness down the stretch.
The Tigers held Alta scoreless the final 2:57 of the game, forcing two difficult shots in the final 15 seconds as they held on for the tight 52-49 victory to improve to 12-0 on the season.
“You’re not used to playing a team with their length. We haven’t had to play that,” said Wildeboer. “That was a good experience for us to deal with that cause we haven’t had two bigs on the floor, I liked that we were able to overcome that.”
Alta held a narrow lead for most of the game, but in the fourth quarter the lead slipped away thanks in large part to Orem’s half-court trapping defense. With 6-foot-4 guard Carter Walker manning the top of the trap, Orem forced five fourth quarter turnovers as Alta finished with 14 for the game. The visitors, meanwhile, only had four turnovers.
The last of those fourth quarter turnovers came with less than a minute remaining, which forced Alta to foul. Nick Clark calmly sank both free throws with 21 seconds remaining to stretch the lead to 52-49.
At the other end, Clark played great defense to contest a Jett Lundberg layup with 16 seconds remaining. The Hawks fought for the rebound and retained possession via the jump ball, but Clark and his teammates again played suffocating defense around the perimeter on Alta’s final possession, which ended in a low-percentage fadeaway 3-pointer as time expired.
Ironically enough, despite Alta being in position to force overtime, Wildeboer said it was actually the most confident he felt all game
“In the timeout, I told the team, ‘Our defense is what got us here and it’s going to win the game right now,’ and sure enough that was a couple big stands,” said Wildeboer. “They’ve bought into playing together and defensively we take a lot of pride in contesting shots. I felt more confident in the game that last possession than I had all game.”
The confidence really started with the half-court trap as he could sense Alta wasn’t sure how to try and attack it and get quality shots.
Alta only scored eight points in the fourth quarter, highlighted by a vicious dunk from 6-foot-10 Jaxon Heiden, who led all scorers with 24 points. His dunk put the Hawks ahead 47-46 with 3:49 remaining, but Ethan Stoddard answered right back at the other end with his own jumper for the 48-47 lead.
Stoddard and Clark both scored 13 points for Orem.
Alta responded with points of its own on a Lundberg bucket for the 49-48 lead with 2:57, but it didn’t score again.
Over that final stretch, Alta missed four shots, turned it over once and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 situation.
Alta had No. 1 Orem on the ropes most of the night, but it hasn’t quite learned how to close out games yet. It’s a feeling Wildeboer said his team knows all too well, but something that’s paying dividends a year later.
“We learned a lot last year. We were young in a really good league. The top five in 5A besides Olympus were in our league, so every night we were facing a top five team and we weren’t quite ready,” he said.
This year Orem has that killer instinct both offensively and defensively, which will be tough for anyone to deal with.