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High school girls basketball: Highland features balanced scoring attack once again to take down Skyline

Highland’s Paige Cooper, left, celebrates with her teammates Cecilia Olevao, Sophia Legate and Sosefina Langi as the Rams build a first half lead on Skyline during game at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.
Highland’s Paige Cooper, left, celebrates with her teammates Cecilia Olevao, Sophia Legate and Sosefina Langi as the Rams build a first half lead on Skyline during game at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Balance was once again the name of the game for Highland in its Tuesday night matchup against Skyline.

With two scorers in double digits and four others recording five or more points, the Rams secured a 47-39 victory over the Eagles. The balanced scoring attack of the Rams now features five players with 100 or more points and three others with 80 or more on the season.

Highland coach Kurt Schneider said that he’s glad that he doesn’t have to coach against his own team because that balanced attack can be very difficult to game plan against.

“Personally, if I was coaching against us, it would be really hard to defend against us because we have so many options and we do a good job at finding those options,” said Schneider. “As this team rolls through, it’s kind of like someone else is stepping up and doing something different each night.”

Sosefina Langi and Sophia Legate were the players who stepped up Tuesday for the Rams in the scoring department, finishing with 11 and 10 points respectively.

Following a sluggish start from both teams, Highland’s balanced attack coupled with its full-court pressure, really began to quickly wear on Skyline. Trailing by three heading into the second quarter, the Rams press began to click and fueled a 9-0 run that gave Highland a lion’s share of the momentum.

“It’s really been a work in progress,” said Schneider concerning his team’s ability to execute the press. “The girls are really starting to get down their rotations and trust for each other, and that allows us to get our hands in passing lanes and make things difficult.”

Highland needed to make things as difficult as possible for the Eagles in order to counter and contain another strong performance from Skyline’s Tina Njike. Finishing with a game-high 24, Njike scored all of the first quarter points, and 14 of the Eagles’ 17 first half points.

“(Njike) is a worker. She’s very active, she’s strong down low and she’s got great touch around the basket. So it’s difficult to stop when you don’t really have somebody who can matchup with her physically,” said Schneider.

Highland was successful at containing Njike in its earlier matchup with Skyline, holding her to just 14, but the Rams struggled to replicate that performance Tuesday night.

Luckily for Highland, Njike picked up her fourth foul 3:03 remaining in the third quarter, forcing her to sit the remainder of the quarter and play less physically the rest of the game. Skyline’s Erica Clark picked up the slack while Njike sat, scoring all nine of her points in the third quarter, helping to keep the game within reach for Skyline.

Once Njike checked back in and the Skyline was at full strength, the Eagles went on an 8-1 run to cut Highland’s lead to just four points. However, the pressure of the Rams appeared to ultimately wear down Skyline when it needed the energy to cut the deficit further.

With the win, Highland remains alive in the region title race but will need a loss from Olympus in order to have any chance at a potential co-region championship. Schneider says that his team isn’t really focused on the region title chances, but primarily focused on improvement as they gear up for the state tournament.

“I’ve been telling (the team) it’s not really about the region title — we’ve just got to keep getting better ourselves and keep working,” said Schneider. “We’ve got a great team and a great opportunity, but we just need to keep working and getting better so when we do step into the state tournament we’ll be clicking and feeling good about where we’re at.”

Schneider added that if Olympus finishes out the season with the Region 6 title, it would only be fair. “I’m going to be honest with you, they’ve earned it. I take my hat off to Whitney (Jenkins) and the Olympus girls.”

Both Highland and Olympus conclude their region seasons on Friday. Highland will face Brighton on the road, and Olympus visits Skyline to take on the Eagles.