SALT LAKE CITY – Wednesday’s 4A playoff game against Mountain View may have served as a wake-up call for the Bountiful Braves, who found themselves trailing after one quarter in the quarterfinals against the Bruins at the Huntsman Center.
But a strong defense and an even tougher mentality around the glass led to a second quarter charge that gave the Braves a halftime lead, and Bountiful was able to dominate in the fourth quarter in order to win 61-46.
“We were expecting this in the tournament,” said Braves coach Mike Maxwell. “We didn’t expect to roll through everybody, and there’s no way that’s ever going to happen. They’re a well-coached team and they’re just tough, hard-nosed kids and they play hard.”
Offensive rebounding was key for Mountain View when they got the lead after the first quarter. Though the Bruins were undersized, they were still able to out-rebound the Braves on offense, creating many second chance opportunities.
Closing out the first half; however, was a much tougher task for Mountain View. The Braves defense didn’t allow a basket until 2:30 was left on the clock, turning a five point deficit into a two-point halftime lead.
“If you want to win championships, you have to play defense and you have to rebound; we didn’t do either in the first half,” Maxwell said. “We definitely did that the second half. They did a great job and in the fourth quarter we were pulling away.”
The third quarter was tightly contested with both Mountain View and Bountiful trading leads on multiple occasions. Bountiful’s Sam Merrill made the closing shot in the final seconds to give the Braves a 35-34 lead.
Zac Seljaas and Jordan Bleak helped the Braves go on a quick 6-0 run to start the fourth, and the defense held the Bruins scoreless for nearly three minutes to allow Bountiful to build on their lead.
“When we started rebounding the ball and playing defense, that turned the whole game around,” Maxwell said. “We stopped them from getting offensive rebounds and getting second, third and fourth shots. In the end we held them to 33 percent shooting, and that wins games.”
Bountiful outscored Mountain View 26-12 in the final quarter. The final five points from the Bruins came in the closing minutes of the game.
For Jeff Pollard, who scored 11 points and had seven rebounds, getting rebounds on defense was one of the keys to the Braves berth to the semi-final round.
“We kept getting after those rebounds and pushing the tempo, which allowed us to build the lead,” he said. “We were having a tough time getting rebounds and playing our game because they were very physical and on top of everything. Sometimes you got to be mentally tough and just grind through it.”
Seljaas led the Braves with 19 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Merrill scored 16 points with eight rebounds, and Bleak scored 13 points in the win.
The Braves will make their third straight trip to the 4A semi-finals on Friday. They will play Olympus at 4:10 p.m.