OGDEN — The message to Pleasant Grove’s players was a pretty simple one at halftime on Tuesday night, start playing like the top defensive team in 6A.
“I didn’t think we were the No. 1 defensive team that first half, I thought we were 100th. (West Jordan) did what they wanted in the first half,” said Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister, whose team trailed by eight at halftime.
In a first-round game featuring the top two defensive teams in 6A, McAllister challenged his players to uphold their end of the hype.
“We kind of challenged their pride, ’cause they take pride in their defense, they really do. They kind of got on each other, it was kind of good to see. After the coaches were done and we left, we could hear them in the locker room yelling at each other, they were ticked,” said McAllister.
The frustration translated into second-half success as Pleasant Grove made things much more difficult on West Jordan defensively, eventually pulling away in the final three minutes for the 62-54 opening-round victory at Weber State.
With the win, Pleasant Grove advances to face Weber in the 6A quarterfinals at the University of Utah on Thursday at 5:50 p.m.
Pleasant Grove held West Jordan to just six points in the third quarter but still trailed 37-36 heading into the fourth quarter. Aided by a pair of 3-pointers from Ashton Kelson, the Jaguars scored on four straight possessions to extend their lead to 47-43 with 5:32 left in the game as they looked poised for the upset.
Over the last five minutes though, Pleasant Grove’s defense held the Jaguars to just two buckets as it closed the game on a 19-7 run to rally for the win.
Kawika Akina buried a 3-pointer to give the Vikings their first lead of the fourth quarter at 49-47 with 3:47 remaining, and then after a Kelson tip-in tied it back up, Casey Brown converted a 3-point play to give his team the lead for good.
Arguably the biggest shot was Tyler Fairbanks’ fourth 3-pointer of the game with 2:05 remaining, which extended the lead to 55-51 and put even more pressure on the Jaguars, who shot just 30 percent in the second half after shooting at a 47 percent clip in the first half.
Getting 7-foot-3 Matt Van Komen more involved offensively in the second half was just as important as a renewed focus defensively.
“We didn’t get the ball to Matt, and Matt didn’t do much in the first half, but boy the second half he made some adjustments and got tougher,” said McAllister.
“He was just I thought off-balance all first half, and was never able to catch and go up and shoot because he was always trying to get his balance back. Second half, he just got more aggressive.”
Van Komen scored nine of his 14 points in the second half as he also finished with 10 rebounds. Casey Brown led Pleasant Grove in scoring with 18 points.
Brown hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter as the teams finished tied 15-15.
In the second quarter though, West Jordan surged ahead using a 10-0 run to take a 28-17 lead on a Kayden Al-Mosawi layup with 3:03 remaining in the half.
Pleasant Grove’s stagnant offense recovered in the final two minutes of the half with a 3-point play from Van Komen whittling the deficit to 28-20, and then Kael Mikkelsen’s 3-pointer to make it 28-23 with 45 seconds left.
At the halftime buzzer though, West Jordan’s Sinai Enoch buried a deep 3-pointer to stretch the Jags’ lead back to 31-23. Enoch hit a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer as well, tying the game at 15-15.
Enoch led all scorers in the loss with 19 points.