It wasn’t exactly an unfamiliar stage for Bountiful: The 23-1 Braves are used to being favorites, used to going deep in the Class 4A basketball tournament, used to shouldering great expectations.
But, hey — even great programs can get the early jitters.
Bountiful 76, Provo 44The Braves outscore Provo 45-16 over the second and third quarters.
» Sam Merrill has 20 points, five rebounds and four assists for Bountiful, and Jeff Pollard has a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
That much was evident at the start of the top-seeded Braves’ game against Provo, but Bountiful found its game soon enough, walloping the Bulldogs 76-44 on Monday night at the Huntsman Center.
Although the early going was sloppier than they would’ve preferred, the Braves were led by Sam Merrill’s 20-point, four-assist night and a huge game from forward Jeff Pollard to overpower the underdogs.
"As much as we thought we would have them, the nerves are always there for the first game," Merrill said. "We were able to pick up the defensive intensity a little bit. Offensively we were a little stagnant to start."
The Braves appeared hurried and sloppy at the beginning, turning over the ball four times in the first half. The opening minutes were a near dead heat, with Provo’s scrappiness helping it tie the game three times.
But the gloves came off after the second quarter started. A 7-0 run to start the period galvanized Bountiful, which used its superior length to stymie the Bulldogs’ attack. Merrill, a senior, had 14 of his 20 in the first half to help spark his team to life.
"He’ll do whatever it takes to win the games," Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell said. "He finds ways to make things happen for us. His offense, his defense, his assists — all of that."
But it was Pollard who made sure the Braves didn’t start the second half the way they began the first. The junior had six straight points to kick off the third quarter as part of a 10-0 run before Provo put up a point. Bountiful outscored the Bulldogs by 29 in the second and third quarters combined.
Pollard’s physicality was key in dominating the paint. He finished with a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double while racking up three blocks on defense.
Provo’s Hunter Bailey was the team’s leading scorer with 14 points, while Grayson Magleby added 10. The Bulldogs shot only 33.3 percent from the floor for the game.
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