Like he’s had to do on numerous occasions this season, Alta coach Travis Ohrn made a point of reminding his players after Friday’s 79-55 victory over rival Brighton to actually enjoy the moment.
He even encouraged them to take the weekend off and not even think about basketball — which he knows they’ll probably do anyway.
“The leaders that we have on this team are so hungry to be great. It’s every day in practice, every game,” said Ohrn, whose top-ranked Hawks improved to 17-1 with the win.
“There’s times I have to remind them, ‘Enjoy the moment, enjoy this win.’ A lot of times they’re instantly moving onto the next. It’s like, ‘Guys, take time to enjoy it because it goes by so fast,’ but that’s just their mindset. They’re just so competitive. Their will to win, they’ll do whatever it takes. I just love coaching them.”
That mentality was the catalyst to last season’s dominant 5A state championship run, and with seven of the top eight scorers back from that team, the Hawks haven’t skipped a beat this season.
Their one loss came against nationally ranked St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy, California, at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas last month.
The catalyst — something Brighton got a major dose of Friday — is Alta’s tenacious defending.
With athletic guards, athletic bigs and arguably the state’s best rim protector in Ute commit Jaxon Johnson, Alta’s defense harasses opponents for 32 minutes, with nearly every shot contested.
“That’s the whole goal, right? We focus on the defensive end, and our motto is defend, rebound and run, and it all starts down there. We figure as long as we defend we’ll have a chance to win every game,” said Ohrn.
That was Brighton’s mentality, too, on Friday, especially after giving up 92 points in its last time out against Olympus.
Through the first quarter at least, the Bengals matched Alta’s defensive toughness and only trailed 14-11 despite making just 4 of 15 shots.
Midway through the second quarter, Brighton still only trailed 20-17. In a blink though, Alta blew the game wide open, closing the half on a 17-6 run.
Seven of Alta’s eight buckets during the spurt came at the rim as point guard Ace Reiser pushed the pace in transition.
Reiser finished with a game-high 23 points, with Johnson adding 13 and Carter Goodfellow chipping in with 12.
Alta’s mentality to never let up and chase greatness carried over into the third quarter as it opened on a 21-4 run to build a 31-point lead, its largest of the game.
The collective defensive effort on Brighton leader scorer Nash Matheson was key to Alta’s success, according to Ohrn.
“He’s so tough inside, so that was kind of the main goal is make some other guys try to beat us,” Ohrn said of Matheson.
“We don’t want Nash getting catches include the point. We know that he’s tough in there, and he’ll shoot a thousands free throws if you let him get in there, so we tried to eliminate him inside and chase (Bradley Easton) off the 3-point line.”
Matheson finished with 11 points, well off his season average of 17.8 ppg, and even though Easton made four 3-pointers, three of them came after Alta had already build its 31-point lead.
Alta finished the game shooting 57%, while Brighton shot 38%.
“Coming into this year we know we have a target on our back every game, so that kind of just motivates us because we’re gonna get every team’s best shot,” Johnson said.
“So just stay focused, and we know that if we stay focused and play together, we’re gonna like the outcome.”
With Friday’s win, Alta wraps up the first half of Region 6 play unscathed with a 6-0 record. Johnson believes there’s plenty for the Hawks to continue to work on as they build toward the playoffs and defending their 5A state title.
“We just need to stay together,” he said. “A lot of people are saying that we’ve already peaked, but we don’t feel that way. We feel like we aren’t even close to peaking yet.”