TAYLORSVILLE — Two days before his team's first-round matchup against West Jordan, Bingham coach Rand Rasmussen invited his players over to watch the enduring sports classic “Hoosiers.”
“One of the things they say about the tournament is win by one or win by 50 (or) go home,” Rasmussen said of the 1986 film.
The undefeated Miners made sure they didn't go home.
Bingham trailed nearly the entire first half Monday in the 5A playoffs at Salt Lake Community College before tasting its first lead with just over two minutes remaining before halftime. With the lead, the Miners subsequently fended off the Jaguars’ unyielding pressure to win 53-45 and advance to the quarterfinals.
Rasmussen, whose team improved to 22-0 and will face Syracuse in the quarterfinals, knew that West Jordan was a difficult matchup. The Jaguars were pesky in the first meeting in the opening round — playing toe to toe with the 5A powerhouse for three quarters.
“Actually that’s exactly what I thought would happen,” Rasmussen explained. “(West Jordan coach Carlson) Boudreaux is very good and he made a very good move and we weren’t ready for it. I thought it was very smart going to a 1-3-1, and we hadn’t seen (that) all year long. It was a great move.”
With 3:32 left in the first, Bingham called a timeout. Its lip was bloodied and its face swollen. The fourth-seeded Jaguars, after five Bingham turnovers, took an 10-3 lead on Kalita Taei’s two freebies. Taei scored 14 points for the Jags.
“Probably just nerves and excitement. I think for our team we were just excited to play,” Ashton Henderson, who tallied 10 points, said. “We needed to be in control a little bit more, but West Jordan came out ready to go. They played hard and we got punched in the face in the beginning and had to get back up on our feet.”
The Miners finished the quarter on an 8-2 run that culminated on a baseline jumper by Henderson.
“The tournament is always a big deal — and it’s what we’ve been working for — so I think every team is a little bit nervous,” Henderson said. “You come out and play as hard as you can and move on.”
With 3:37 left in the second, Bingham finally pulled even, at 18-18, when Whitney Daniels drilled a straightaway 3-pointer.
Less than a minute later, West Jordan’s 6-foot-5 center Britney Stalnaker injured her right leg, forcing her to sit for the remainder of the game. In her absence, the Miners worked inside-out, eventually freeing up their perimeter sniper — Jillian Powell.
Powell scored the final nine points of the third quarter, including seven points in the final 90 seconds, punctuated by a runner as the buzzer sounded to expand Bingham's advantage to 39-33 with eight minutes to play.
Powell, who was unavailable for postgame interviews for an undisclosed reason, finished with a game-high 23 points and hit 5 of 6 free throws as West Jordan tried to prolong the game late in the fourth.
In Hoosiers, coach Norman Dale said, “there’s a tradition in tournament play to not talk about the next step until you’ve climbed the one in front of you.”
If the first step is any indication of the hurdle the top-ranked Miners are trying to overcome — they're certainly poised to face an increasingly strenuous journey.