Early in the second quarter of Thursday’s 6A semifinal, Skyridge coach Shaylee Nielsen decided it was time to abandon her team’s bread-and-butter defense — the 1-3-1 press, or the “bulldog” as they call it.
Considering Skyridge rarely played man defense during the regular season, and definitely didn’t work on it during semifinal preparations, it was a bit of a gamble.
That switch turned the game on its head.
Trailing 18-14 early in the second quarter prior to the switch, No. 2 seed Skyridge closed the half on a 12-4 run and then ran away from No. 3 Skyridge in the second half on its way to the easy 49-36 victory at Weber State.
“We really thought that bulldog our 1-3-1 press would be a main factor in this game, but they broke it so we went man and I was impressed because we haven’t been working on man a whole lot,” said Nielsen.
Davis struggled to get anything going against Skyridge’s relentless man defense throughout the second half as it shot just 22% after halftime and finished the game with 23 turnovers.
“I couldn’t be more proud. It was Skyridge basketball, we just ask them to win the controllables like we talked about last game, your effort, your defense, we just talked about getting stops and offense will come like usual,” said Nielsen.
A good chunk of that offense came directly off that defensive intensity as Skyridge turned 23 Davis turnovers into 19 points for a 19-3 edge in points off turnovers.
With the victory, Skyridge advances to Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship at Weber State where it will face top seed Lone Peak, which it lost to twice during region play.
“Obviously we’re not just happy to be there, we’re excited to go compete. Obviously we know lone peak well, they’re great, they’re well coached, so we’ll come out with our best effort and so see what happens,” said Nielsen, whose team will be making its first semifinal appearance.
Cambree Blackham led a balanced semifinal scoring attack for the Falcons with 12 points, the only player to score in double figures. Three other players scored at least eight points as The Falcons shot 37% in the win.
Blackham said there was no nervousness from the players when coach Nielsen instructed them to switch to a little-used defense.
“I think the big thing is trusting each other, no matter what defense if we all give it 100 percent we can pull it off,” said Blackham. Who added four rebounds and two steals in the win.
Ellah Oeser had a big game at both ends of the floor with eight points and seven rebounds for the Falcons.
Leading 26-22 at the half, Skyridge came out even more dialed in defensively and buried the Darts with an 11-0 run to start the third quarter. Davis didn’t score their first points until the 3:11 mark of the third, and their first field goal until the final 41 seconds of the quarter.
“We’ve been talking a lot about first five minutes out of halftime. That’s when you’re either going to pull away or it’s going to be a tight game, and we challenged them to come out hard those first five minutes and that’s exactly what they did,” said Nielsen.
Davis was led in the loss by Kendra Kitchen, who had a great game with 17 points, eight rebounds, four steals and four blocks, but Skyridge’s defense made her work hard for every shot attempt.
“Kendra Kitchen is so good, that length, she can score long, we did our best slowing her down. Our bigs did a good job on her,” said Nielsen.
Davis freshman T’Maea Euati came off the bench to score eight points and eight rebounds, and she’ll be back along with Kitchen as the future is bright for the Darts program next season.