Anxiety is not something Lone Peak’s girls basketball team has dealt with much this year, especially against in-state foes that it routinely buries by halftime. In Saturday’s 6A state championship, anxiety smacked the Knights in the face several times.
Underdog Skyridge, which lost twice to Lone Peak in region play, never wavered with its pressing defense even though logic says it shouldn’t work against Lone Peak’s great guards.
It did work repeatedly in the first half, and with Skyridge’s shot making at the other end, the Falcons led for big stretches at the Dee Events Center, including by six with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.
From that point on, though, Lone Peak looked every bit the part of a nationally-ranked team that everyone not wearing orange expected to win easily.
After falling behind by six late in the third, Lone Peak outscored Skyridge 27-6 the rest of the way, including the game’s final 14 points as it ran away for the 64-49 victory and a repeat 6A state championship.
“It does get nerve wracking, we haven’t been in a situation like that before, but I’m really proud of everyone sticking together even though we are down and just continuing to play our basketball, get back into it,” said Lone Peak senior Kailey Woolston, who had an off night shooting but still finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Lone Peak coach Nancy Warner joked that blowing out teams is a little easier on the heart and mind, but she was thrilled with the way her team led by seniors Woolston and Makeili Ika battled through the unusual nervousness.
“I think what they showed was the grit and heart of our leadership to really step up. They took the team on their backs. Just make sure we did our job on the defensive end,” said Warner.
A defensive switch is what ultimately helped flip the game for Lone Peak.
The Knights are known for their lockdown man-to-man defense, but Skyridge broke it down well all game, including four straight times to end the third quarter as it scored 10 points in the final 2:03 to take a 43-40 lead into the fourth.
“For whatever reason we couldn’t get stops when we needed to, so we had to adjust to a zone,” said Warner, who said she could count on her hand how many times that happened this year.
Skyridge still led 47-45 at the 4:49 mark of the fourth after another driving layup for Cambree Blackham, who had a great game to lead the Falcons with 18 points.
At the other end, Lone Peak went ahead for good on a Shawnee Nordstrom 3-pointer after she’d missed all six attempts prior to that. She shrugged her shoulders afterward with body language that screamed ‘finally,’ as she finished the game 3 of 15 from the field for 10 points.
“I think it’s all just mental toughness and also encouragement from my teammates, they’re the best,” said Nordstrom about staying positive throughout the struggles.
Ika pushed the lead to 50-47 on a lay-up a minute later, with Skyridge answering back on a lay-up by Donya Perkins that also fouled out Lone Peak big Sarah Bartholomew.
The Falcons didn’t score again.
Woolston knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to 52-49, and 40 seconds later her freshman younger sister Kennedy Woolston delivered the dagger for Skyridge on a corner 3-pointer for the 55-49 lead.
“I was so happy for her, she’s always ready for the big moment and she showed up big time,” said Kailey Woolston.
Incredibly, even though Kailey Woolston led Lone Peak with 18 points, she went scoreless in the second and third quarter but her team only trailed by three heading into the fourth.
“Obviously we rely on Kailey’s scoring ability, and she had looks, she missed them. I think everyone’s confidence in each other showed through in that, we were able to find the open man,” said Warner.
Ika was huge scoring 12 of her 15 points in the second half to pick up the slack, as was Bartholomew in the third quarter as she snagged three clutch offensive rebounds to extend possessions that Lone Peak scored on each time.
In those final four minutes as Lone Peak started to find its offensive rhythm and get stops defensively, Skyridge coach Shaylee Nielsen said Lone Peak’s championship experience probably paid off.
“We might’ve started to feel a little bit of that pressure, and the ball bounced the wrong way a couple times,” said Nielsen, whose team was appearing in the final for the first time in school history.
She was thrilled with how the game started, especially with how relentlessly they pressed and pressed effectively.
“The girls were amazing and just played our scouting report just right. We decided to go with our press even though they’ve got the best guards in the state, and they played the hearts out and were able to cause chaos,” said Nielsen.
Skyridge led 25-22 at the half after forcing 10 turnovers and turning them into 14 points. The 22 points were the fewest Lone Peak had scored in the first half against an in-state team all season.
“They got us out of our comfort zone and we had to get back into that and just settle down and play our basketball,” said Nordstrom, who admits to playing frazzled in the first half.
Lone Peak protected the ball much better in the second half, with just two turnovers coming in the third quarter, but Skyridge matched it offensively with great shot making as it maintained the three-point lead heading into the fourth.
Even though Lone Peak beat Skyridge by 31 and 14 in the two region meetings, Warner wasn’t surprised at all by how tight the championship played out.
“That’s what Skyridge is capable of. I know that, we know that, they play hard, they play full court, in your face and you have to be locked into a game plan and execute effectively and doing what we’re supposed to,” said Warner.
Both teams return three starters next season as more great battles are in store in the future between the two rivals.
Deseret News 6A All-Tournament Team
MVP — Kailey Woolston, Lone Peak
Shawnee Nordstrom, Lone Peak
Makeili Ika, Lone Peak
Cambree Blackham, Skyridge
Shae Toole, Skyridge
Aly Coombs, Fremont