During the 2019-20 season, the Lehi girls basketball team averaged more than 65 points per game and often simply overwhelmed opponents offensively with their dead-eye shooting and aggressiveness attacking the basket.
In Tuesday evening’s 5A quarterfinal matchup against East in the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, however, the Pioneer outside so hots weren’t dropping (5-of-26 for the game) and the Leopard zone was making it tough for Lehi to get to the basket.
Was that a disastrous situation for the Pioneers?
Not with the way Lehi played defense.
The Pioneers held East to just 19.1% shooting (9-of-47) as they pulled away for the 53-30 win to keep their perfect season on track.
“A lot of people talk about our offense but defense is what we push,” Lehi head coach Aubrey Van Pelt said. “We want to get shots based on our defense. Defense and rebounding were definitely the keys to the game tonight.”
Pioneer junior forward Lila Galeai said that mentality kept Lehi locked in even when the shots weren’t dropping.
“We came in prepared and defense was something we focused on,” Galeai said. “We knew in this gym the depth perception might be different, so if we missed we just came back and played hard on defense.”
Galeai (seven rebounds) and junior guard Maddie Warren (nine rebounds) came up big on the glass for the Pioneers, limiting the number of second-chance opportunities for East.
The No. 1-seeded Lehi squad surged in front early, scoring 15 straight points in the first half to turn a 3-3 tie into a double-digit Pioneer lead.
The Leopards narrowed the gap by scoring nine of the next 11 points but Lehi rallied with a 17-6 run to start the third quarter and never looked back.
“Coming in we knew what we had to do,” Galeai said. “We knew we had to be physical and that we had to have chemistry as a team. We made mistakes but they didn’t get the best of us.”
The Pioneers were led by 14 points from sophomore forward Jamisyn Heaton, while Galeai added 13 and junior forward Brinly Whiting chipped in 10 points.
East was paced by 15 points from forward Lina Tausinga in the losing effort.
With the win, Lehi advanced to the 5A semifinals where the Pioneers will face Springville.
“We’ve been here before but it’s always a good feeling to play one more game,” Van Pelt said.
Galeai knows there are challenges ahead but believes her team can overcome them if they stick together.
The Pioneers and the Red Devils are scheduled to play at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday at 3 p.m. with the winner advancing to Saturday’s 5A state title game.