Morgan boys basketball embarks on playoff journey after turnaround season

Thursday , February 15, 2018 - 8:20 PM

MORGAN — Morgan High had virtually an entirely new boys basketball team coming into this season, a chance for a fresh start after three-straight losing seasons. But because of that, there was hardly any continuity or chemistry in the group.

So they joined summer leagues, went to tournaments, met with a trainer, met as a group and stirred the ingredients.

“I’ve never played with most of these guys until this year, so we’re like, ‘we can’t just go into this season expecting to play awesome,’” Trojans senior guard Cade Russell said.

What’s come out of the beaker is one of the more remarkable turnarounds in the area as the Trojans prepare for the 3A state basketball tournament. Morgan is 19-2 overall and won Region 13 with a perfect 8-0 record after winning 17 games the previous three seasons combined.

That presents another challenge. No one on the team has playoff experience.

“Yesterday I was like, ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I’m at the playoffs, I’ve never been there before, I don’t know the atmosphere,’ so it’s going to be a really different change ... I’m excited for it,” said junior Trey Miles, the team’s second-leading scorer at 14.7 points per game.

Head coach Brad Matthews, in his fourth year at the helm of the boys team, coached the girls team to a state runner-up finish in 2014 and a semifinal in 2008.

He’s been in this situation before and says the team is prepared despite its lack of postseason experience.

“I think we’ve been in enough games — close games, tight games — that I think they’re ready. They’ve learned how to finish games,” Matthews said.

Last month, Matthews said the moment he knew his team had something special was a two-game stretch in early January when Morgan beat 5A Skyline by 16 on the road and 2A powerhouse Layton Christian at home in back-to-back nights.

Russell, who leads the team with 16.9 points per game, instead calls his team’s double-overtime comeback at Judge Memorial a cornerstone of the year. The Trojans trailed by 12 in the fourth quarter before pulling out a gutty win.

“I don’t know how we did it, but that’s where we took off,” Russell said.

Morgan’s calling card is variety. The Trojans shoot 47 percent as a team and complement that with rebounders, defenders, some size, speed and athleticism.

Miles says they’re more cohesive this year, something evidenced by the dizzying amount of screens they set on offense. But they’re not always setting a screen for the leading scorers; Russell and Miles set plenty of their own, too.

The Trojans are one of the 3A favorites this year, along with South Sevier, Summit Academy, Delta and Union.

First for Morgan is a play-in game at 3:10 p.m. Saturday at Wasatch High against Richfield (10-11, 4-8 Region 15), a deceivingly tough No. 6 seed with impressive non-region wins against higher-classification schools.

If the Trojans pass that test, a trip to the big stage awaits.

3A girls basketball play-in game: (2) Morgan vs. (4) Delta

Morgan’s girls basketball team dealt with personal loss and struggle early in the season, which played a role in the Trojans’ slow start. The Trojans came together and went 7-1 in Region 13, sharing the title with Grantsville.

They’ve been helped by the resurgence of Marcie Stapley, who’s averaging 7.9 points and 9.8 rebounds in the 10 games she’s played since recovering from an ankle injury.

The Trojans get Delta (10-10, 6-6 Region 14), winners of three of the last four games, in Friday’s play-in game at Wasatch at 10:10 a.m.

2A basketball play-in games: Layton Christian, St. Joseph head (way) south for first-round games

Layton Christian’s girls basketball team faces Waterford in the first round of the 2A state basketball tournament at 7 p.m. Friday. The schools are separated by approximately 41 miles, but they’ll play the game at Desert Hills High in St. George.

Orem High has hosted the 2A play-in games the past five seasons, but the UHSAA executive committee members representing the three 2A regions (16, 17 and 18) decided to have the play-in games at Desert Hills, LCA athletic director Jared Miller said Thursday.

Of the 19 schools fielding teams in the 2A boys and girls tournaments, 11 are at least 250 miles away from the St. George venue and only three are within 100 miles.

Miller said the plan is to rotate the play-in game locations, with a southern Utah high school hosting once every three years and a central or northern Utah high school hosting the other two years. From 2008-12, the play-in games were at Snow College each year except 2010, when Southern Utah University hosted.

LCA’s boys team, which handily won Region 16, is one of the 2A favorites this year. The Eagles will play fifth-seeded Gunnison Valley in the first round at 2 p.m Saturday. The two schools are separated by 151 miles; LCA will head 331 miles to Desert Hills while Gunnison will travel 201.

The St. Joseph boys, seeded fifth, face No. 2 seed Parowan at 8:40 p.m. Saturday. The No. 5-seeded Jayhawks’ girls team, led by prolific double-double machine Virginia Tomon, plays against second-seeded Millard at 8:40 p.m. Friday.

You can reach prep sports reporter Patrick Carr at pcarr@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickcarr_ or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/patrickcarr17.

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