Las Vegas • At some point in the sparsely attended Las Vegas gym, as the buckets kept falling and the defense kept assaulting, the Wasatch Academy Tigers ceased playing the Ambrige (Pa.) Bridgers.
At some point, because the other team on the floor was not capable of competing with them, the Tigers began a battle against the naysayers. It became a campaign against the doubters, of which there are many. It became a struggle against the people who, quite simply, don’t know who the Tigers are.
Boys’ basketball Wasatch 74, Ambrige (Pa.) 41The Tigers capitalize on their defensive pressure for several easy baskets during the Tarkanian Classic.
On a mild Friday afternoon in Las Vegas, while completely overmatching a team that had traveled from Pennsylvania to play in one of the top tournaments in the country, Wasatch Academy was making a statement to the world of Utah basketball with a 74-41 win.
Here we are. We can play. Disbelieve at your own risk.
"We’re hoping to play with the best teams to show that we’re one of the best in the state," senior Geno Luzcando said. "People are always like, ‘They’re only 2A. They’re not that good.’ We want to show them who we are. We’re starting a tradition."
The Tigers, who won last year’s Class 2A state title, seldom are recognized as one of the best teams in the state. But for two days at the Tarkanian Classic, they have done their best to lay claim to that title.
But whether they actually are the best team in the state likely never will be known. No matter how much the Tigers would like to play the rest of the top teams in Utah, they aren’t on the schedule.
"I think we still have way too much to prove," Tigers coach Geno Morgan said. "I mean, how do you even determine that without us being able to play Alta, Bountiful, Lone Peak, Orem and those guys on a regular basis? It’s hard to ever determine if we’re the best. I don’t know if that’s what we’re even going for. We just want to go out every game and be the best team on the floor."
It was clear from the outset that they were the best team on the floor Friday. A suffocating, full-court defense forced mistakes and led to transition scores. The Tigers’ talented trio of Luzcando, Koby McEwen and Cody John dazzled, while role players like center Yussef Mohammed also gave the Bridgers fits.
It was a statement for a team desperate to make one.
"The only way we can gain respect is coming to tournaments like this and winning," McEwen said. "Hopefully we can set up exhibitions against bigger schools like American Fork, Lone Peak."
As for the naysayers and doubters, Morgan knows they always may be there. All the Tigers can do is beat the teams on their schedule and prepare. Because if the time ever comes to go head-to-head with the best teams in the state, they will be ready.
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