When the Bountiful Braves walk onto the floor, the first thing opposing teams notice is their size. The boys team boasts eight players over 6-foot-5, and they use every inch to its advantage.
In last week’s 4A championship game rematch, Bountiful held region rival Highland to its lowest output of the season — a paltry 27 points.
Braves new world
Bountiful is undefeated in region play, despite losing all five starters from last year’s second place team in 4A.
In last year’s tournament, Bountiful upset top-ranked, defending champion Timpview in the first round.
Two of last year’s players, Pere LeSueur and Nate Pollard, are not on the squad this year. LeSueur is in Australia for personal reasons and will play next year, while Pollard moved from Bountiful and is playing for Davis.
It was a statement game, the kind that puts everybody in 4A on notice that the Braves are once again aiming for the top.
"Our goal is to get back. We want to get to the state championship again, for sure," senior Brock Yates said. "We’re hoping to get that opportunity again and, if we do, we can take it this time."
If Bountiful does return, the difference will be defense. Since starting region play, the Braves are holding their opponents to an average of 42 points per game. That’s the top-ranked scoring defense in 4A, trailing only Lone Peak in the entire state.
"Our main focus is and will always be defense," senior guard Brit Harding said. "That fuels everything else and gets our offense going."
While the Braves are sound offensively, they don’t depend on an individual star to lead the team. Harding is averaging more than 14 points a game, and Yates is just a shade behind at 13 per contest. Several other players consistently reach double digits as well, an important attribute come playoff time. Many teams will employ a shutdown strategy on one player, a luxury they can’t afford against Bountiful.
"We play together as a team," Harding said. "It doesn’t really matter who scores — we’re like a family. We love playing together and we know the team ball is what wins ball games."
Perhaps the unsung hero of Bountiful is Brandon Yates, a spark off the bench for the team. The senior guard is the twin brother of Brock, though stands six inches shorter. On a team of giants, he has put up huge numbers of his own. Brandon Yates is one of the leading assist men in 4A.
"In my opinion, he’s the most underrated player in 4A," Brock Yates said. "It’s amazing what he’s been able to do for us off the bench. He’s my twin brother, so we know each other well — I know exactly what he’s going to do on the floor. He’s a big part of the success of this team."
The ultimate success of the team will be decided in a few weeks as Bountiful attempts to take back the region title they won in 2010. The Braves have a two game lead over Highland, with another battle against them looming to end the season.
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