High school girls basketball playoffs in classifications 6A, 5A and 4A start this week. Here are some things to watch.
THE THING ABOUT FREMONT
The unbeaten Fremont girls basketball team enters this year’s 6A state playoffs as one of the state title favorites, just like last year and the year before, but there are some concerns.
Chiefly among them, junior Timea Gardiner isn’t expected to play the rest of the season after having knee surgery last week, stemming from an awkward landing against Weber in January.
The other thing with Fremont is the Silverwolves haven’t been in a single-digit game in the fourth quarter yet this season. They’ve had games go close until the middle or late third quarter before winning by double digits, but nothing that came down to the wire.
Could that be a bad thing?
It could, but the Silverwolves also have a team that can weather such a thing regardless of this season’s experience.
Right now, Fremont starts BYU signee Emma Calvert, the state’s most consistent player for four years, plus Division-I basketball and volleyball recruit Maggie Mendelson in the front court.
But the Silverwolves also start two three-year starting guards, Halle Duft and Averee Porter, plus junior Mia Austin, who was the team’s fourth-leading scorer last year coming off the bench.
Their 2018 state title team? FHS started three senior guards and the team kept its composure to win two tight state tournament games that year.
In the 2021 bracket, Fremont has a potential quarterfinal against Skyridge. And should it go to the semifinals, the team’s possible opponents are No. 3 Bingham, No. 6 Davis or No. 11 Pleasant Grove.
Though Bingham’s a different team this year with mostly new starters and a new head coach, the Miners are still 16-4 behind a balanced scoring attack and a defense that allows under 40 points per game.
They top a list of state title favorites, followed by No. 1 Herriman, No. 2 Fremont and No. 4 Lone Peak.
FARMINGTON TRIES TO AVOID GETTING SICK ... AGAIN
Even if there wasn’t a raging pandemic going on right now, not getting sick would probably be high on Farmington’s priority list.
Take it back to last season when Farmington was the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, hosting No. 18 Mountain View in the second round. The Bruins won 42-40, ending FHS’ playoff run before it started.
At home that night was now-senior guard Valerie Kunzler, the team’s leading scorer that year who was home sick with some sort of flu, she said after a game earlier this year. Had she been able to even get off the couch, she would’ve tried to play, she said.
Every team’s goal this year has been to stay healthy due to COVID-19. One doesn’t have to tell that twice to No. 1-seeded Farmington (17-1).
One doesn’t even have to tell FHS three times, since the Phoenix dealt with a COVID pause and constant lineup shuffling as nearly half the team caught the disease at one point in January.
The Phoenix has a legitimate chance to make a deep run this year and the team’s guided by good scoring balance all over the floor, from the post players (Delaney Baker’s averaging 14.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) to the guards (Kunzler’s averaging 12.1 ppg and shooting 42% from 3-point range) and a defense that allows just 36.4 ppg.
The other top four seeds are No. 2 Lehi (the Pioneers handed FHS its only loss of the regular season), No. 3 Springville and No. 4 Olympus, with defending champion Highland as the No. 5 seed.
Even before that, Farmington’s biggest potential challenge could come in the quarterfinals, where FHS could play No. 8 Bountiful.
The coaching cliché says it’s hard to beat the same team three times in one season, and the Phoenix beat Bountiful by 22 and 17 in their regular-season meetings. Bountiful has the talent to make it interesting, should they both go that far.
THE EROSION OF 4A
Two years ago, the 4A classification had four regions and 20-plus schools: the Cache Valley schools, Southern Utah, a Utah County region and the hodgepodge, centrally located region that Bonneville, Ogden and Ben Lomond used to play in.
It made for a competitive state tournament that eventually saw Cedar High beat Ridgeline in the state title game.
Starting next year, those two teams will still be in 4A. Hardly anyone else, though, will.
That’s after successive realignments that have eroded the 4A classification to just two regions starting next school year.
It’ll still likely be a competitive state tournament since most 4A state champions come from Cache County or St. George anyway, but the coming changes to 4A drew the ire of a lot of people during the latest realignment process.
It started when the two Ogden schools and Juan Diego moved down to 3A, making the centrally located Region 10 not feasible anymore for Tooele, Stansbury and Uintah, which all moved to 5A.
So that means the 4A state tournament will consist of a 13-team bracket next year. Meanwhile, the 5A tournament will have a 32-team bracket that draws from five regions along the Wasatch Front.
It’s of course welcomed by Ben Lomond and Ogden, who figure to be more competitive in all of their sports going forward. Elsewhere, the Cache and southern schools aren’t happy about what’s about to be the most watered-down classification in the state.
GIRLS BASKETBALL FIRST-ROUND GAMES
Tuesday, Feb. 23
- : No. 20 Weber at No. 13 Layton, No. 17 Hunter at No. 16 Northridge, No. 19 Roy at No. 14 Copper Hills, No. 18 Bonneville at No. 15 Wasatch, No. 24 Clearfield at No. 9 Riverton, No. 17 Box Elder at No. 16 Orem, No. 25 Hillcrest at No. 8 Bountiful, No. 23 Alta at No. 10 Viewmont, No. 24 Woods Cross at No. 9 Skyline
, Feb. 24
- : No. 17 Ogden at No. 16 Mountain Crest, No. 21 Ben Lomond at No. 12 Canyon View, No. 20 Crimson Cliffs at No. 13 Bear River