I think really, without the defense we played tonight, we couldn't have capitalized on offense and gotten as many points as we got. I mean, defensively, we stopped 'em. Defense leads to offense. —Jeff Pollard, Bountiful junior forward
BOUNTIFUL — Many athletes might be wary of wearing that allegedly unlucky No. 13 on their jersey.
But not Bountiful High's Jeff Pollard.
"Yeah, 13, I just thought nobody wanted it," he said Friday night. "I was like, 'I'll take it; I'll be unlucky for the other team.'"
Indeed, it seems to be working out pretty well for the Braves' big man — and it's definitely been bad news for Bountiful's opponents this season.
Pollard, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, scored a game- and season-high 17 points — on Friday the 13th, no less — to help pace unbeaten Bountiful to a 56-50 preseason victory over American Fork in the Don Perkins Fieldhouse.
And although Pollard displayed his ability to score both inside and outside, he knew what was the biggest difference in the game's outcome.
"Defense," he said. "I think really, without the defense we played tonight, we couldn't have capitalized on offense and gotten as many points as we got. I mean, defensively, we stopped 'em. Defense leads to offense.
"We knew coming into this game they were one of the top 5A teams, and we prepared good for them and we just focused on shutting them down defensively."
One of the Braves' biggest keys was the job they did on American Fork 6-10 senior center Ryan Andrus. He managed 15 points, with six of those coming in the game's final 4:07 after the Braves built a double-digit lead.
"We came into this game knowing that he was going to be like a volume scorer, that he was gonna score a lot of points, so we worked a lot on just shutting him down," said Pollard, who was given the defensive assignment of containing Andrus and did a bang-up job of it. "And I think we did a good job of that tonight.
"I don't mean to brag or anything, but I was the one guarding him. But it was a team effort and we did have help-side coming back. I came into this game knowing I was gonna have to shut him down if we were gonna win, so that's what I focused on was defense and stopping him."
After Bountiful (4-0) took a slim 16-15 edge at the end of a fast-paced first period, the two teams played on even terms until midway through the second quarter, when Pollard scored the last six points in an 8-0 run that pushed the Braves ahead by seven, 29-22, at halftime.
American Fork's Brendan Bailey brought his team back within six, 50-44, with a fourth-quarter flurry, scoring eight of his 15 points in a two-minute span.
But Merrill connected on 8 of 10 free throws in the fourth period to help keep the Braves on top, and Trevor Lloyd hit three free throws in final 26.8 seconds to preserve the victory.
Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell agreed that his team's interior defense was the key.
"Dominating the inside," he said. "I think my bigs did a pretty darned good job of playing up to the potential that we know they have and are capable of, and we challenged them tonight. We said, 'You're going against the best bigs in the state, and let's see what we can do and see if you can step up and rise to that challenge.' And you know, I think we did a pretty good job of that.
"My big kid, Pollard, said, 'OK, I'm gonna take this on,' and basically did so one-on-one. But we did bring help and we brought the doubles from the right times and the right places and it kinda confused those guys, and that's why they kept turning it over. We were bringing pressure at the right times, and I guess they're not ready yet for that. They will be in probably January and February, but it's December and so it's fortunate for us that we can do it right now and they weren't quite ready. That was a big key.
"Pollard's a big kid himself," Maxwell said. "And he's not a slouch and people are gonna start finding out how good he is. It's two big-time teams going at it and battling, and fortunately for us we were at home, too, and that helps to have the home crowd on our side and the court, the rims, the atmosphere."
And, of course, that young man wearing No. 13 who's unlucky for the other team, too.