Provo • The players whittled away their time, picking their perfect moment to take their one shot. The shot to rule the state.
Both Lone Peak and Fremont found their moment during the double-overtime 6A Utah state girls’ basketball championship Saturday at BYU’s Marriott Center. And both times they missed.
But Makeili Ika had faith. She’d lifted the Knights to victory on a last-second shot before — the game just before this one, in fact. So why couldn’t she do it again?
Turns out, she could. The guard, generously listed at 5-foot-5, banked in a running jumper from just outside the paint with less than a second left to lock in championship after a 67-65 battle against the Silverwolves.
“I just have a lot of confidence in my teammates and we all love each other and we’re so close and we had to do it together,” Ika said. “When I saw an opening, I had to take it. I’m the captain, I had to step up.”
It takes considerable guts to do that against a team like Fremont. The Silverwolves (24-3) entered the game undefeated in the state. Their only two losses this season came at the hands of two teams ranked among the top 10 in the nation by MaxPreps.
But Lone Peak is no slouch, either. It hadn’t lost a game all season and will finish 23-0.
“Something about this team this year is how resilient they are,” Lone Peak coach and former BYU player Nancy Warner said. “Because when anything has gone against us or our backs have been up against the wall, they have found ways to come together and bounce back — always. So I’m just proud of them for finding that heart today to make it on top.”
The scenario that put the Knights on top played out almost exactly like their semifinal win against Herriman. In that game, Lone Peak had whittled away roughly 1:30 of game time before the Ika drove to her right and sunk a last-second basket. Against Fremont, the Knights got the ball with two minutes to play and the score tied at 65. Again, they jolted into action with about 10 seconds to play and fed the ball to Ika. With just a few seconds left, she saw her opening on the right, drove and scored.
This one brought the Knights their first state championship since 1999.
“I thought, ‘If I could do it then,’” Ika said, “‘I can do it now.’”
Waiting until the last second to take the winning shot is a dangerous game, though, and one that scalded both Lone Peak and Fremont earlier in the championship.
In a play only made possible because Utah does not have a shot clock — something set to change next season — Lone Peak whiled away the final 2:37 of regulation. Ika and her teammates mostly stood near the halfcourt line, motionless, as boos rained down on them from the Silverwolves student section. When they finally sprung into action, they struggled to find a clear shot until Ika launched a 3-pointer from the top of the key that clanged off the rim, sending the teams to overtime.
This time, Fremont inbounded the ball after a Lone Peak game-tying shot, 58-58, with 1:43 left. It, too, bided its time. With two players headed to play Division I basketball next season on their roster, and a considerable size advantage, the Silverwolves liked their chances. But, when their burst also failed to produce a score. Timea Gardiner, only the second girl in state history to be named a McDonald’s All-American, missed a difficult stretch shot from just outside the paint and Maggie Mendelson’s two chances at a putback bounced out.
Gardiner, a senior, has committed to play for Oregon State next season. Mendelson, meanwhile, was reclassified and will skip her senior year to play basketball and volleyball at Nebraska. They produced the vast majority of the Silverwolves’ scoring in the title tilt, with 23 and 24 points, respectively.
“I think we had our chance at the end of the first overtime, and it was just uncharacteristic that they didn’t fall,” Fremont coach Lisa Dalebout said. “Credit to Lone Peak. They came out and they fired the ball and they shot the ball really well.”
The stalling also felt uncharacteristic compared to the rest of the game, which was a nonstop hustlefest.
Both teams shot better than 50% from the floor and from the 3-point line in the second half. Trailing 31-22 at the break, the Knights came back and found the net with all but one of their 3-point shots in the third quarter to tighten the gap. They closed within three points at the end of the quarter after a 4-point play by Ika, who was fouled by Mendelson while swishing an elbow 3. They tied the game two minutes into the fourth quarter when Shawnee Nordstrom converted a steal into a layup. A 3-point play by Kailey Woolston finally put Lone Peak in the lead with a little over 3 minutes to play, but Fremont’s Aly Coombs evened the score shortly afterward.
Woolston led all scorers with 26 points. Ika added 15 with four assists and two steals and Nordstrom had 11 with three assists and two steals.
The tears streaking the faces of the Silverwolves showed how much the lost hurt. Still, looking around at the crowd of several thousand that had come to watch, and considering the acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of Title IX before the game, Dalebout said she couldn’t be sour about it.
“To be honest, I feel honored to be a part of such a beautiful game,” she said. “Especially with the history of the 50 years that we finally get to play the game. And I feel like we’re finally being treated as equals.”