SALT LAKE CITY — After losing a heartbreaker at the buzzer last week to Kearns, Judge’s boys basketball team really needed a victory Tuesday night.
It was by no means a must-win situation with six games left, but with how Region 6 is shaping up with five teams battling for three playoff spots, every victory is vital.
Judge was well-aware of that heading into Tuesday’s clash with Woods Cross, but instead of playing with urgency, the Bulldogs' players relaxed.
“Just have fun, play hard, get after it. When we have fun we’re a much better team, share the ball well. That’s really the key to our success. It seems like the more assists we have each night, the better we play and the more games we win,” said Judge forward Ryan Pauley.
That mentality paid off, especially in the fourth quarter when Judge scored 30 points to break open a close game on its way to a convincing 72-55 victory.
With the win, Judge moves into a second-place tie with Kearns in Region 6 at 5-3, while Woods Cross falls to 4-4 and into a three-way tie for the last playoff spot with Highland and East.
“We lose that, it could really be detrimental to our playoff hopes at the end,” said coach Dan Del Porto, whose team hadn’t broken 70 points all season.
Pauley was a beast for the Bulldogs scoring 26 points — three shy of his career high — and adding eight rebounds and six assists.
As well as Pauley played offensively, the perimeter defense by Judge's Kaden Elliss on Garret Grant was just as important at the other end. He harassed Grant most of the night, limiting him to just seven points, well below his 15.9 point average.
“That’s probably the single-biggest key to the game. If he gets his average, that’s a totally different game,” said Del Porto.
As difficult as Judge made things defensively for Woods Cross, which shot only 34 percent, it was certainly in a dogfight through three quarters.
Pauley scored 11 straight points early in the second quarter to pace Judge to a 27-20 lead, but the scrappy Wildcats worked their way back into the game and only trailed 29-28 at the half. Heading into the fourth quarter it still only trailed by one, 42-41.
It wasn’t close for long.
Judge scored on its first four possessions of the quarter to build a 50-43 lead, and then Pauley provided the dagger on a baseline 3-pointer with 5:11 remaining that put Judge ahead by 10.
“Ryan made some really big plays, hit some big shots,” said Del Porto. “We haven’t shot the ball well from 3 all year — it’s certainly not our strength necessarily — but he can shoot. He hit a couple big ones there to extend our lead a little bit.”
Defensively, Judge held Woods Cross without a field for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter.
Elliss finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs, while Luke Jowers led Woods Cross with 14 points.