Deer Valley boys basketball picked up its fourth straight Northwest Region victory Friday night by concentrating on the things it does best - driving, defending and deferring.
By accentuating their strengths, the young Skyhawks shook off a tough third quarter and earned a road victory against a far more experienced team. Deer Valley (9-6, 4-1 Northwest) rode 10 fourth-quarter points from sophomore forward Lawrence Pierce, all on drives to the basket or free throws set up by drives, to beat Valley Vista (7-9, 2-3).
Of the three points of emphasis, Deer Valley coach Jed Dunn was most proud of his team's defense.
"That's what we do in practice. If we're going to be good, we're going to be good at the defensive end," Dunn said. "For quite some time (this year) we were shooting like 30 percent from the field, so we have to do something else well. We've been focusing on defense."
The home team battled back in the second half, erasing a five-point halftime deficit and taking a 45-44 lead at the end of the third quarter on two straight buckets by senior forward Jameel Yousif. Then the wheels came off for Valley Vista.
"It kind of was a funny feeling all night. We never really got in a rhythym, never really got any momentum going," Valley Vista coach Mike Anderson said. "And then we got some at the end of the fourth quarter. I think our guys thought it would carry on into the fourth. I thought it would carry into the fourth. But you can't just hope it's going to carry over, you have to make it carry over."
Deer Valley junior guard Darius Watkins scored to regain the lead. Anderson was hit with a technical foul for complaining about several calls, with 6:43 remaining. Deer Valley senior center Ivan Ivic made both free throws.
Yousif responded with a layup, drew a foul and swished the free throw to tie the score. Pierce got to the rack again to regain the lead. Valley Vista junior forward Terry Alexander was fouled and made one free throw.
The Skyhawks took control after that, scoring 10 straight points to go up 60-49. Valley Vista briefly responded, cutting the lead to five, but could not draw any closer.
"That's the first thing I said to them in the locker room, that we didn't fold. We were up six or eight most of the game, then they took the lead, and we didn't fold," Dunn said. "That's a great sign of young kids starting to mature. And I'm proud of them for that."
Pierce and Watkins tied for the scoring lead with 22 points apiece. Watkins also scored mostly forays to the basket and had the night's highlight play - a steal at halfcourt that led to his dunk midway through the third quarter.
"Lawrence and Darius have the ability to get to the basket. They've got to get better at reading the defense and knowing when to pass and when to go to the basket," Dunn said. "Their play takes pressure of Ivan, so he doesn't have to score those 20-point games."
Sophomore guard Trey Ogles also got into the act for the Skyhawks, finishing with 13 points. Junior forward Spencer Keller crashed the boards, tying Pierce for the team lead with eight.
Yousif led Valley Vista with 16 points and six rebounds, but scored mostly in short busts and was quiet for long stretches of play. Alexander scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half.
The Monsoon fell behind late in the first quarter and spent the rest of the night catching up. They fought back in the third quarter, thanks in part to senior guard Tirell Turner pumping in all seven of his points. But Valley Vista's play Friday reflected their play all season - up and down and ultimately, unsatisfying.
"Sometimes we don't handle the adversity well, and we don't handle the success well. The time to learn that is now, we're already behind the 8 ball," Anderson said. "So we've got to each and every day put in our best work in and not looking forward to big games (Tuesday against Willow Canyon) or celebrating the big win and letting that carry over for three days and then having a mental letdown."
Now the Monsoon is in the bottom half of the region standings and, more importantly, the 5A-II power point rankings. In both respects, they're looking up at a Deer Valley team that's ahead of the curve.
The Skyhawks eight-man rotation Friday included only one senior and three juniors. Yet, this underclassmen-dominated squad seems to have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of team basketball.
"They're committed to playing hard. There's a lot of chemistry on the team," Dunn said. "Nobody really cares about who scores."