Donovan Mitchell’s eyes grew as big as saucers and his jaw dropped. Jazz teammate Juwan Morgan almost jumped out of his seat. Even Emmanuel Mudiay had to shake his head.
That’s just how spectacular Fremont High sophomore Timea Gardiner played in the first half of the UHSAA 6A girls basketball championship Saturday night at the Huntsman Center.
Given that, imagine what their reactions would have been if they would have seen Bingham sophomore Sierra Lichtie and her Miners teammates come alive in the fourth quarter to shock the state’s No. 1-ranked team.
By leaving their seats at halftime, the Jazz players likely missed seeing Lichtie drain 15 second-half points on 4-of-4 3-point shooting That run included both the 3 that gave the Miners the lead for good midway through the fourth quarter and a pair of clutch free throws on a one-and-one opportunity that put the game out of reach. Bingham then held on to defend its state title with a 59-51 victory over Fremont.
It was the Silverwolves’ first loss to a Utah team this season and their first loss since mid-December.
“It was surreal,” Lichtie said. “So surreal.”
Lichtie’s performance — she finished 6 of 8 from the field — was only made more impressive by the fact that she is the Miners’ only non-senior starter. As she stepped up the ladder to cut down the championship net, a slew of supporters of the South Jordan school began chanting “M-V-P! M-V-P!”
The 5-foot-11 forward said she drew extra motivation from wanting to send those seniors out on a high note. The group includes her sister, Jaycee, who added 15 points and four steals to Saturday’s effort, as well as Samantha Holman (16 points, three assists, three steals), Ameleya Angilau (eight points, seven assists), Madison Jones, Cosette Salisbury, Kasia Higgins and Karli Papenfuss, who all saw action in the final.
Lichtie’s second-half performance was directly tied into Gardiner’s dominance in the first half. Fremont’s 6-3 power forward swished all three of her deep shots, even with a hand in her face. She also made 7 of 10 from the field to finish the half with 17 points — more than twice as many as any other player on the court. But it was Lichtie whom coach Charron Mason tabbed to toughen up on Gardiner in the second half. She did just that, holding Gardiner to just two points in the second half for a game-high 19.
“We asked for her to step up a little more and toughen up her defense,” Mason said. “And that translates into offense.”
Emma Calvert, who has been a thorn for the Miners since she was a freshman difference-maker in the championship between the two teams two years ago, was the focus of Bingham’s defensive attention in the first half. The junior was held to just five points in the half but finished with 17 for the game along with seven rebounds. Sophomore Mia Austin was the Silverwolves’ next highest scorer with five points.
The two teams have been the anchors of the girls basketball championships the past three years. In 2018, Fremont (24-3) out of Plain City, earned its first title since 2014 by beating Bingham, 61-47. Last year, Bingham (19-6) exacted revenge by knocking off the Silverwolves, then the No. 1 seed, 46-42 in the semifinals before going on to win their own title. Saturday’s game, the first girls 6A state championship ever held at the Huntsman Center, was to be the tiebreaker.
But the rivalry will no doubt live on after this one. Bingham will bring back the younger Lichtie and a handful of young but mostly inexperienced players after losing eight players to graduation. Fremont, meanwhile, will say goodbye to two seniors and bring back every one of it starters.
Lichtie said she’s ready to face that challenge.
“It will make it worse,” she said of the state of the rivalry following Saturday’s game. After noting she’s friends with many of the Fremont players, including Gardiner, she added, “but this is basketball, and we want it.”
BINGHAM 59, FREMONT 51
• Bingham defended its 2019 title and exacted revenge for its 2018 6A championship loss to Fremont
• After scoring just three in the entire first half, sophomore Sierra Lichtie scored 15 points in the second half, including the go-ahead 3, to finish with a team-high 18 points
• Bingham will graduate eight players, including 4 of 5 starters. Fremont will graduate two players, none of which start.