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High school girls basketball: Defense, free throws lead Wood Cross to win over Murray

Murray’s Adelai Moore and Woods Cross’ Macy Richards compete for control of the ball in a 5A girls basketball first-round game in Woods Cross on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.
Murray’s Adelai Moore and Woods Cross’ Macy Richards compete for control of the ball in a 5A girls basketball first-round game in Woods Cross on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

WOODS CROSS — After losing three consecutive games heading into the first round of the 5A girls basketball playoffs, Woods Cross rebounded in a big way, winning a tight defensive battle with Murray, 40-35, to advance to the second round.

“Murray has been playing really well ... and their region is really good,” Woods Cross head coach Dave Simon said, adding that it was the second time Woods Cross beat Murray this year. “We figured some things out after not playing well for the last week-and-a-half or so.”

Taylor Jackson scored 13 points to lead a team effort by the Wildcats. Annie Michaelis and Katie Longmore each scored eight points and Liz Howley added seven. Ileah Beh had 19 points to pace Murray.

“I was really pleased with that. I think we can go sometimes 10-deep, sometimes nine,” Simon said of the balanced team effort. “I was pleased with it and how they were excited, even if they weren’t in the game — because they’re all competitors and want to be in there. I was happy with how they supported each other.”

Woods Cross and Murray competed in a defensive battle. At halftime, the score was just 19-18. The two teams locked down even more in the third quarter, with the two squads combining to score 15 points, heading into the final period with the Spartans leading 27-25.

“We don’t score a lot, so we have to defend really well. Most of our games are like that. We just have to be kind of physical and try and keep the score low like that,” Simon said.

The intensity built in the fourth quarter, with each subsequent possession fueling the fire. With under five minutes remaining, Lenaia Lavatai hit a free throw to extend Murray’s lead to 30-27. Woods Cross responded with a 6-0 run, with points from Sofia Mokofisi, Michaelis and Jackson, to take a 33-30 lead. From there, the two teams traded points.

A Longmore free throw with 50 seconds left gave the Wildcats a 3-point lead and set up the most important Murray possession of the night. Woods Cross forced a backcourt violation and Jackson hit two free throws as the Wildcats moved on to the next round.

Woods Cross was clutch in the fourth quarter, with seven of its 15 fourth quarter points coming via the charity stripe. The Wildcats made six of their seven free-throw attempts as Jackson made four, Michaelis made two and Longmore made one.

“We tried to get it to our kids that we know can make them and have been there before. They went in tonight,” Simon said.

No. 14 Woods Cross will take on No. 3 Highland in the second round of the playoffs on Friday at 7 p.m. The Wildcats beat the Rams 46-42 when the two teams met on Dec. 4 at Highland. However, Simon said that win was so far ago, “it was almost like last season.”

Simon hopes that the momentum from the win over Murray will carry over into Friday’s game.

“Hopefully we can take every bit of it because we’re going to need it all. They’re a good team,” Simon said.