Coach Andrew Walker took his Kearns team aside recently as they prepared for their 6A state tournament opener against Taylorsville Tuesday night.
Even though the Cougars celebrated their “senior night” with a 70-50 win over the Warriors last week, he said, “It’s tough to beat a team three times in a season.”
Kearns needed a plan and decided to focus on its defense. The Cougars had guards Lanice Hill, Erika Warner and Emily Olague hustle along the perimeter and that was enough to frustrate Taylorsville 53-42 in a first round contest.
“We won our region, but we don’t get any respect. We have to earn it, but we accomplished what we wanted to tonight.” — Kearns head coach Andrew Walker
Only afterward did the Cougars focus on their reward: a matchup against undefeated Fremont Thursday.
“We’re looking forward to playing them (the Silverwolves),” Walker said. “We won our region (2), but we don’t get any respect. We have to earn it, but we accomplished what we wanted to tonight.”
The Cougars had a 7-3 record in region, but were 3-7 against nonregion opponents and drew a No. 15 RPI ranking. Kearns drew a difficult path to try to win the state title. However, Walker was pleased that they passed the first step with their fast-paced style, which gathered even more momentum when Olague, Ema Mumford, Taya Parker and Amaya Afatasi combined for five 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Cougars grabbed a 25-7 lead.
Kearns, in fact, made its first six shots and had a double-digit advantage before the contest was four minutes old. The Cougars didn’t fare nearly as well afterward and didn’t score a single basket in the second period but rebounded, forced turnovers and got to loose balls with enough tenaciousness to still expand the lead to as many as 22 points.
Taylorsville, which finished its season with a 6-12 record after a fourth-place finish in region, never got the deficit under 10 points. Senior sharpshooter Calleigh DeYoung, who had a 27-point effort against Granger last month and showed the ability to take over a game at times, didn’t get untracked until the fourth quarter.
DeYoung finished her final game with 11 points and impressed even the boisterous Kearns fans with a couple of treys from NBA range. Ella Huntington led the Warriors with 15 points. Hinei Aukusitino added nine.
Olague and Afatasi had 15 points for the Cougars and Mumford 10. Mumford also had 11 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us (Thursday),” Walker said. “We’re going to have to throw the whole kitchen sink at them (Fremont).”