Titans pull away for win with strong defensive effort over RivertonDec 17, 2021 09:27AM ● By Travis Barton
Abby Topham’s (left) defense was instrumental in the Titans preseason win over Riverton. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
They say it’s not how you start, but how you end. For the Olympus High girls basketball team Thursday night, they did both.
Olympus defeated Riverton 48-35 on Dec. 16 behind a combined 30 points from Alyssa Blanck and Brooklyn Davies with the Titans enjoying big first and fourth quarters.
Olympus’ defense was perhaps the star of the night. The Titans (6-1) held Riverton (7-1) to just one point in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
After building a 22-8 lead early in the second quarter that saw Davies score the Titans first 10 points of the game, Olympus appeared poised to put the game away early.
But Riverton responded defensively in the second quarter switching to a zone that limited Olympus and allowed the Silverwolves to get into transition.
“That is our bread and butter,” Riverton head coach Jodi Lee said. “We want to push the tempo, we want to run people up and down the floor and we had control in that second and third quarter.”
The Silverwolves went on a 10-0 run of their own in the second to cut the Titans lead to six at halftime forcing Olympus into some of its 20 turnovers and aggressively attacking the basket led by Belle Christensen who finished with a team-high 14 points.
Riverton continued to take control in the third with offensive rebounds and a full court press disrupt the Titans rhythm. An 11-0 run keyed by three pointers from Abigail McDougal and Amaya Afatasi saw the Silverwolves take the lead 34-30 in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
But Afatasi’s three would be Riverton’s last field goal of the game.
Olympus’ Mary Sheets stemmed the bleeding with a three to end the third quarter making it 34-33.
It was a timeout late in the third that helped the Titans course correct, Olympus head coach Whitney Hunsaker said, where she made everyone take a deep breath.
“In the third quarter we did not play Titan basketball,” she said. “We just got way too sped up, we finally started slowing down. We were just not playing our tempo, we have to play our style.”
A return to form, combined with an assistant coach’s suggestion to switch the defense, saw the Titans take over in the key 15-1 fourth quarter run. Adjusting from man to zone helped disrupt Riverton’s momentum during a key part of the game.
“Switching up that defense and giving them a different look got us more confidence and allowed us to switch the momentum around,” Hunsaker said.
Key to that change was Abby Topham, who finished with three steals and eight blocks constantly tipping passes.
“Abby was huge for us tonight,” said Hunsaker, who was nervous entering the game about matching Riverton’s length. “Obviously the whole team rotated really well because that’s a defense where everyone has to be all hands on deck and rotate and anticipate…it was great we could have Abby help distort some shots.”
Lee acknowledged the defensive adjustment Olympus made taking control of the game’s tempo limiting her own team’s natural tenacity.
“We are a very defensive-minded team and so when we don't score a lot out of our defense, we have to figure out where our points are going to come from and tonight we didn't have that,” Lee said.
With the Silverwolves entering the game undefeated, Lee said it was good for her team to get “a little slice of humble pie against a good team,” noting it gives her a “good measuring stick as to where we are.” The game also serves as preparation for eventual region road games at Bingham and Herriman.
“I’m hopeful that this will end up being a really positive thing for us,” she said “As coaches it really gives us an idea of ‘OK these are things we’re really lacking in’ and as players I hope it fuels them. Records mean nothing, (each individual) game is the only thing that matters.”
This year’s squad does have something Lee hasn’t always enjoyed: depth. Riverton went four and five deep on its bench during the game.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” she said. “If we can figure out those rotations, that’s going to be a real blessing for us down the road.”
As for Skyline, the game was part of a tough preseason schedule Hunsaker compiled to test her team. Besides Riverton, Skyline also faced the two 5A finalists from a year ago in Farmington (46-34) and Springville (36-43, it’s only loss so far). They are scheduled to play perennial power Bountiful tonight and 6A power Syracuse on Tuesday to wrap up nonregion play.
“I'm just really hoping we can continue to learn from all these tough games and apply them as we get down the stretch and hopefully make some noise,” Hunsaker said.
With her defense holding opponents to 34 points per game, the Titans could definitely make waves this year.
“That was my big goal for everyone, defense has to be our game this year,” she said. “And I’ve loved how they responded.”