Neither the Woods Cross Wildcats nor the Cottonwood Colts were ready to look over the horizon at their future 5A girls basketball tournament opponent Tuesday night.
Both teams still felt like they had something to prove, and it was the Wildcats who played with more poise and consistency in a 40-29 win over the Colts in their tourney opener at Cottonwood High School.
Georgia Helton scored 14 points and Sofia Mokofisi added nine points and 10 rebounds as Woods Cross led the entire game and held off the Colts’ fourth-quarter rally to move forward to Thursday’s second-round match, where coach David Simon’s team will face top-seeded Lehi, a 60-28 winner over Spanish Fork.
“We’ve had a few games like this before,” said Simon, whose squad blanked the Colts in the first quarter and claimed a 9-0 lead. “We had to show some composure. A lot of our girls have just one speed — quick — and they needed to slow down and take a breath and just regroup.”
After Ali Tripp’s two free throws with 2:37 left cut the lead to 31-27, Helton came through. She made a short jumper to build the margin to six points, forced a jump ball after a missed shot on the next possession, and then made 3 of 4 free throws.
Cottonwood never recovered. Their 27 turnovers were too much to overcome and they ended the season with a 12-10 mark, which was the same amount of wins it earned in the last five seasons combined.
“We battled back, and the kids hustled,” said Colts assistant coach Robert Tripp. “This team came a long way; we just needed to have started the game better and build some momentum.”
“That first half was probably the best defense we’ve played all year,” said Simon. “We knew they would make a run at us. This game had that kind of atmosphere and the teams were evenly matched.”
The teams were also seeded No. 16 and 17 in the latest RPI rankings, and that proved pretty accurate as soon as the Colts’ Ashlyn Tripp, Kennedy Covili and Ava van der Beek began to hit some baskets, and Olivia Tassainer and Alivia Hutton hustled along the perimeter to pick up loose balls.
Helton then made the difference. She had just two points in the first half and was on the bench to start the fourth quarter when Cottonwood cut the margin. Not long after she reentered, she provided the necessary spark that started a 9-2 run that included a pair of free throws by Katie King and a layup by Mokofisi.