I told them we had to play more aggressive, attack the basket, look to get to the foul line and play to win instead of just playing not to lose. —Bear River coach Van Park
WEST VALLEY CITY — The fourth quarter got a little bit scary.
Bear River got up big early in the 3A quarterfinal matchup against Juab on Thursday night. The Bears posted a double-digit lead and relaxed.
From their easy chairs atop a 16-point cushion, Bear River watched the Wasps hack away at the lead, little by little, until Juab freshman forward Hannah Robins was at the foul line with 0.8 seconds left in regulation, looking to tie the score.
"We just were playing not to lose," Bear River coach Van Park said of his team's lackluster fourth quarter, which preceded a snap back to reality during overtime as the Bears scored eight straight points in the extra period to get the win, 44-36.
"I told them we had to play more aggressive," Park said, "attack the basket, look to get to the foul line and play to win instead of just playing not to lose."
The Bears created their lead early, hitting three straight 3-pointers to open the game while holding Juab scoreless until the final seconds of the first quarter. Bear River gave up three points off its lead in the second quarter, but when the second half started, the Bears pulled away again.
The Bears shot 33.3 percent from the floor during the second half, significantly better than the 20 percent shooting in the opening half, to kick off their 14-5 third-quarter scoring run , which ultimately led to posting their largest lead of the night of 16 points with a minute left in the third period. Just eight minutes later, however, the Wasps opened up their own run.
Juab outscored the Bears 19-5 in the final portion of regulation, culminating in Robins' game-tying free throws with under a second left on the clock.
"Take my hat off to Juab," Park said. "They could have folded up when they battled back and put it into overtime. That was a great effort on their part and all of the sudden our jitters came out a little bit and we did some uncharacteristic things, turned the ball over, but some of that was their aggressive defense too."
Bear River refocused in between the end of regulation and the beginning of overtime, resolving to hunker down and finish the game strong. The Bears did just that, outscoring Juab 8-0 in the extra period on the way to the playoff victory.
"In that overtime, Tamika Rodriguez really stepped up," Park said. "I thought Alyssa Park had a great game overall — rebounding, tips, steals, shots — but in the overtime, Tamika really came through, hit some huge free throws and took it to the basket strong like we needed her to."
Rodriguez finished the game with a game-high 21 points and was 9-for-11 from the foul line in addition to four rebounds and four steals. Alyssa Park added 11 points five rebounds, and four steals. Jordan Fitting led the rebounding crew, pulling down 12 of the team's 45 total boards.
Robins led Juab with 12 total points. She was a perfect 4-for-4 from the foul line and grabbed nine rebounds for the Wasps.
After the come-from-behind win, and with the prospect of playing Juan Diego in the 3A semifinals at 4:10 p.m. on Friday afternoon, Park said he learned something new about his team.
"I did find out that we're a little more resilient than I thought," he said. "We're going to have to play a lot more confident and aggressive (Friday) if we want to have a chance. But they showed a lot of character in that overtime because all the momentum had gone into Juab's corner. We just came out and took the momentum back."
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.