Wasatch Tigers fight way through tough opponents to qualify to face top team in nation next Monday
By Matt Harris
SPRINGFIELD, VA.—With the exception of the national postseason tournament, the Wasatch Academy boys’ basketball team spent last week on perhaps the biggest stage in school history.
Playing at the St. James Invitational in Springfield, Va., the Tigers showed up big against a field composed almost entirely of teams ranked in the Top 25 nationally by MaxPreps.
Wasatch posted statement wins over No. 10 La Lumiere, Ind., 55-45, and Bishop Walsh Academy, Ma., 74-64. Their perfect record and impressive run was however marred by an ugly defeat at the hands of a familiar enemy, No. 13 Oak Hill Academy, Kans. losing 81-60. Oak Hill had similarly beaten the Tigers out of the GEICO Nationals in 2019.
The Tigers started well with their win over La Lumiere, one of the most prestigious basketball schools in the nation. It looked early on like the Tigers were going to make light work of the Lakers when they stormed ahead in the first quarter to lead, 20-3. Wasatch kept the impressive lead into halftime, 34-16. The Lakers finally pushed back in the third quarter to make it a 10-point game, but got no closer as the Tigers claimed the win in their lowest-scoring game in years, shooting 30 percent as a team from the field.
Surprisingly enough, four different Tigers scored in double figures in the game as senior Kentucky signee Nolan Hickman and unsigned junior Roddy Gale, Jr. both scored 11 points, while unsigned senior Brennan Rigsby and senior BYU signee Fousseyni Traore each put in 10 points.
Against Oak Hill, it was a very different ballgame, as Wasatch’s game-freezing defense from the day before was not effective against the deadly accurate and fast-paced Warriors. Oak Hill raced out to a double-digit lead before the Tigers ever had their first points and led 39-29 at halftime.
Despite a solid paint performance by Traore, the Tigers were overwhelmed in the paint on defense as Oak Hill shot 60 percent inside the arc.
Hickman did all he could do to keep the Tigers in it as he led with 19 points, while Rigsby had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Traore had 12 points and nine rebounds.
“We didn’t take care of the ball, and I let the game get away from me as a coach,” Wasatch Academy Coach Paul Peterson said.
The Tigers rebounded from the shellshock of their first loss of the season with a game against unranked Bishop Walsh that looked to be getting away from them at first, but Wasatch recovered with a win, thanks to a huge performance by Traore.
The Tigers were down, 35-33, at halftime, but a big third quarter, 22-15, pushed Wasatch past the Spartans. Hickman had his best game with 21 points, and unsigned junior Richard Isaacs, Jr. put in 14 points. But it was Traore who had the best day of his career, pouring in 29 points to go with 11 rebounds and four blocks.
The Tigers time at the prestigious tournament is not over yet. Having played No. 3 Sunrise Christian Academy, Kans. last Tuesday, they’ll be up against No. 9 Legacy Early College, S.C., this Friday, followed by Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, Tenn. on Saturday. The following Monday will be the big one for Wasatch Academy as they take on the unanimous top team in the nation, No. 1 Montverde Academy, Fla., next Monday.