SOUTH JORDAN — In a game featuring two of the top-ranked girls teams in the state, Bingham unequivocally couldn’t have pictured the first half going any better Thursday night.
The top-ranked Miners swarmed No. 3 American Fork from all angles defensively, and the Cavegirls had absolutely no answers. Bingham limited a confused, bright-eyed and uncharacteristically flabbergasted AF team to one field goal and four points during — wait for it, wait for it — the entire first half.
In the process Bingham built a 15-point cushion that proved too much for American Fork to overcome. AF did everything it could to come back in the second half, but the Miners rode their big lead the rest of the way to ultimately claim a huge 43-38 win and remain perfect on the season.
“That’s about as good defensively as we’ve been in quite a while, which is actually kind of shocking to me cause AF’s got real good offensive players," Bingham coach Rand Rasmussen, whose team improved to 17-0 and 6-0 in Region 4 play, said. "Yeah, I’m pretty pleased with that.”
In the first half, Bingham — extending its man-to-man pressure to midcourt — caused 12 American Fork turnovers. The Cavegirls went 9 minutes, 9 seconds without a field goal to start the game and finished 1 for 13 from the field in the opening two quarters.
Rasmussen, however, didn't believe American Fork's woes were the result of it being afraid of the undefeated Miners.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “(American Fork coach) Corey Clayton doesn’t get intimidated by anybody and we’ve played AF enough during the summer. They know what’s coming. I don’t think they’re intimidated at all.”
Bingham took a 19-4 lead into the locker room knowing an inevitable run was looming from a team as talented as American Fork (15-3, 5-1).
On the opening possession of the third quarter, AF’s Maile Richardson swished a baseline jumper. The Cavegirls followed suit with three straight buckets — two from their leading scorer, Dixie State commit Cassidy Fraughton — to pull within nine points, 21-12, with just over two minutes gone by in the third.
“I said, 'you have to answer,'” Rasmussen told his girls.
Bingham’s Madison Aulai-Roe, an intuitive, goosebump-quick guard — albeit not necessarily an offensive threat — then made perhaps the play the of the game. Approaching midcourt, she crossed over Fraughton, who mistakenly reached with three fouls already in her pocket — forcing her to plop on the bench until 5:32 remained in the fourth quarter.
“I’m sure that made somewhat of a difference because she’s a college player — that’s got to make a difference,” Rasmussen said of Fraughton's foul trouble.
After the foul occurred, Bingham’s Mackenzie Bruggeman, who finished with 13 points, banked home consecutive layups from the left-hand block to extend Bingham's lead back to 13 points, 25-12.
The two teams exchanged buckets throughout the rest of the third and into the fourth when Aulai-Roe delivered another pivotal play. The senior instinctively intercepted a careless pass on the perimeter with nothing but lonesome between her and the hoop to give Bingham a 37-26 lead with 3:23 remaining.
“I don’t know if they’ve faced that kind of intensity man-to-man before — maybe they have — I don’t know,” Rasmussen said.
The game, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be money in the bank for Bingham with things going according to plan.
The free-throw line, however, has a funny way of complicating plans.
Bingham allowed AF to furiously climb back while watching free throw after free throw rim out.
When AF's Bryanna Adams and Megan Eliason rattled 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor, cutting the score to 39-34 with 47.8 seconds remaining, Bingham looked toward Jillian Powell after shooting 2 for 8 from the line.
Powell, the Miners’ leading scorer, put an end to the charity-stripe woes, hitting the final four attempts, to avoid a potentially catastrophic collapse. Powell finished with 13 points.
“I think those kind of games help you a lot better down the road than a 30-point victory,” Rasmussen said. “It’s hard on a coaches’ heart — I’ve lost my hair — but I think that prepares you for tougher games.”
The Miners and Cavegirls will meet again the final week of the regular season at American Fork on Feb. 12.
“This isn’t over,” Rasmussen said. “This is just one little game — one step — but it’s not over. (American Fork) will make adjustments.”