For Wasatch, it would be its second tournament this month, having competed in the Top of Utah Challenge two weeks earlier. The Wasps, who reached the title game in that one, did not fare as well this time around. After dropping its first game to Park City on Thursday 70-54, Wasatch fell on Friday night to the Jaguars of Las Vegas 61-42.
The game was to feature two of the potentially top junior post players in the west, Nate Dow of Wasatch and Nate Grimes of Desert Pines. The advantage there went to the Jaguars before the game even started with Dow wearing his Kenneth Cole’s instead of his Nike’s. The Wasp’s starting forward was nursing a hip flexor and would miss the tournament.
Wasatch has been making a lot of adjustments so far this early preseason. None more important than dealing with the injuries to not only Dow, but to All-State point guard Jeff Murdock and sharp shooting senior Jackson Gordon. Murdock returned for this Classic, albeit not 100% from a high ankle sprain, and Gordon is just finding his groove after an early hand injury.
The new-look Wasps, under first year head coach Jason Long, have been mired in a flurry of line-up changes because of missing parts and have had difficulty finding the cohesiveness they seek. Long has been forced to go deep into a bench that has very few experienced varsity players. The results of that have shown up on the offensive end of the court for last season’s 3A state semi-finalists.
“That’s no excuse,” defended Long. “But we haven’t played with the same line-up since we started. From Jackson to Jeff and now Nate…we’ve just had to find other ways. But our season goals were not to win this tournament. No one put down ‘to beat Desert Pines’ as a season goal. So we’re okay. We’ll learn and move on.”
The defensive-minded black and gold team took the floor hoping to improve on the previous night’s rough first half of sending its opponent to the charity stripe over 30 times. That alone put Wasatch in such a deficit on the scoreboard they would have needed a near perfect offensive output to get them back in the game.
Desert Pines, who itself is a young team finding its identity in this early preseason, would be a tough opponent for the Wasps—especially since they came into the game with a little more confidence from an opening night victory over Provo 67-65.
A fast and furious pace took hold quickly with Desert Pines scoring first and never relinquishing the lead.
After the Jaguars opened an 11-3 lead with 3:25 remaining in the first quarter, Wasatch began to claw its way back in. Bench players Jesse Gillman and Kyden Hansen both made baskets in the final minutes as the defense intensified. Hansen’s bucket was a three-pointer off a Casey Peterson steal that made the score 13-8 at the buzzer.
The second quarter continued to be a dogfight. Neither team was shooting the lights out from the field, so Long and Desert Pines head coach, Mike Uzan, set their offenses to work inside. The Wasps, overall, gave up only a little in height advantage, but were not as effective in the post as the Jags. When the Wasps were able to penetrate to the basket they found a wall of defenders.
Desert Pines was sent to the free throw line more times than the Wasp’s 10 in the first half. As was the case the night before for Wasatch in it’s lopsided loss to Park City, the black and gold team’s aggression on defense became a catalyst in its undoing.
Juniors Coby Myles, Desert Pine’s point guard and forward Dominic Deloney would have strong second periods for the Jaguars to keep pace ahead of Wasatch. Ben Pelo, the Wasp’s senior forward led a charge midway through to bring his team to within two at 18-20.
But that would be as close as Wasatch would get on this night. Grimes and company rattled off 12 unanswered points to finish the half putting the Wasps on their heals and sending them to the locker room down 18-32.
Wasatch played its best frame of the night in the third behind strong guard play by Gordon and Murdock. Murdock, in only his second game back from the ankle injury that delayed the start to his senior campaign, continually drove the lane, but found himself surrounded.
When the Wasps were able to stop the quick scoring Jaguars, they rarely had the answer on the other end of the court. “We really just aren’t playing good on offense,” added Long. “We haven’t been able to get the score--the one that takes advantage of a good stop.”
Whether it was the hard physical play or quick pace of the first three quarters, the energy slowed a bit in the final period. Once the scoring did begin, over two minutes into the frame, Desert Pines again took advantage of the Wasps in the paint.
Wasatch matched its third quarter total points of 12, but surrendered 15 bring the final score to 61-42 in favor of the Jaguars