In early December, the Woods Cross Wildcats traveled to take on the Orem Tigers. They left Utah County defeated by a score of 50-40 in a game in which the offense struggled.
On Monday afternoon, they were able to avenge that loss with a 75-54 playoff victory and return to the state semifinals after being away for a year.
It was Orem that jumped out to an early lead, quickly going up by six points with two 3-pointers and an and-one in the first two minutes of the game.
Woods Cross coach Josh Margetts had faith in his team to continue to execute the game plan coming in, a tough zone defense.
“We trusted our game plan, to put them in a zone and make them miss shots all game. We trusted that it was going to be effective. We then rebounded the ball and forced them to miss shots,” said Margetts.
Woods Cross’ Mason Bendinger responded to score 10 points over the next few minutes, helping to shrink the Wildcats’ deficit to just two after the first period.
Both teams battled in the second quarter with Orem gaining an edge thanks to interior play. Meanwhile, Jaxon Smith hit several contested jump shots over Orem’s length en route to nine second quarter points to boost the Woods Cross offense.
Margetts adjusted near halftime by playing a two-big lineup.
Centers George Makris and Nic Hogan shared the floor together for the first time all season for a two-minute span late in the first half, and the Wildcats decided to stick with it coming out of halftime.
“They dominated down low, they were flying around defensively,” Margetts said of the lineup.
“They were rebounding and blocking shots. The difference in the game was making that switch.”
Midway through the third quarter, Smith came off of a screen and converted a four-point play to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game in a rush of momentum.
“I came off a screen and Zach Delange hit me; I knew I was going to be open so I took the shot,” Smith said. “I felt a little contact, but it felt good and I saw it go in.”
Woods Cross’ offense never slowed down, finishing the second half with 42 points on 12-for-18 shooting while making 17 free throws.
As the lead grew, the Wildcats got more and more aggressive. They continued to score points at the rim and free throw line until the lead had ballooned to over 20 points.
Orem had a balanced attack as four Tigers scored in double-figures. Nicholas Clark had 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Ethen Stoddard added 12 points.
Bendinger was the star for the Wildcats. He put pressure on Orem’s basket from the opening tip until the final buzzer as he totaled 34 points on just 19 shots and added six rebounds.
“Having confidence in yourself and staying locked in mentally, which led to having confidence the whole game,” Bendinger said of his success.
The Wildcats will take on Murray in the semifinals on Wednesday in the final game of the night at the University of Utah.