After one of its worst first-half performances of the year in Wednesday’s 6A quarterfinal game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, the Pleasant Grove boys basketball team desperately needed three things in the final 16 minutes of action against Herriman:
- Points (the 17 points in the first half was a season-low for the Vikings).
- Hustle plays (Pleasant Grove had seven first-quarter turnovers and was losing most battles for loose balls).
- Defense on Mustang guard Jael Vaughn (who had some explosive drives in the first half that opened things up for the Herriman offense).
The answer for the Vikings? Junior guard Kael Mikkelsen.
Check, check and check.
Mikkelsen took over the game in the second half on both ends, scoring 21 of his game-high 23 points while taking on the challenge of guarding Vaughn and making some impressive hustle plays.
He was the difference-maker as Pleasant Grove rallied from an early 9-point deficit to defeat Herriman, 63-42, and advance to the 6A semifinals.
“I thought Kael Mikkelsen was unbelievable tonight, in the second half especially,” Viking head coach Randy McAllister said. “He brought us back almost singlehandedly on the offensive end. He’s been a do-it-all guy all year. He’s had games where he had one point or three points but was our most valuable player because of other things he does. Tonight, he was Mr. Everything. He was phenomenal tonight.”
Mikkelsen said something that made the night a little sweeter was setting a new career-high in points.
“My career high has been 17 points since my freshman year, so I finally got past that,” Mikkelsen said. “I didn’t really care about that but I just wanted to win so bad. Every point counted tonight.”
He said he relished the challenge of taking on Vaughn, since that what he loves to do.
“You have to be more mentally tough,” Mikkelsen said. “Both of us are going to get tired, so you have to be stronger. My role is to play defense, lock people up. When they put me on him, I was like I know what I’m going to do. I’m just going to guard him.”
He got his hands on a number of passes, including knocking one that appeared headed out of bounds. He somehow jumped and snagged it, flipping it back into play and then chased it down again during the ensuing scramble.
“You see those plays and you know you need to get every 50-50 ball,” Mikkelsen said. “I missed a few of them, so that was the one where I got it finally.”
Even with all the positive plays, though, when Mikkelsen got subbed out with the Vikings pulling away in the final frame he was thinking about a 3-point shot he shouldn’t have taken.
“I was feeling it so I was like, I’m just going to shoot it,” Mikkelsen said. “I shouldn’t have though, since the ball was bouncing all around and I was spinning around. It was not a good shot. I know Coach (McAllister) was so mad.”
McAllister grinned as he recalled his response to the bad shot by the game’s MVP.
“He took an ill-advised 3-pointer and I said the only reason you aren’t getting your butt kicked now is because it was a heat-check because you were so hot,” McAllister said. “You get one of those.”
In the early going, McAllister had much bigger concerns since his Vikings played poorly from the start.
“We came out and didn’t have any pressure on defense,” Mikkelsen said. “We were sitting back, being lackadaisical. We also had a lot of turnovers on offense. They outscored us and that was why.”
McAllister said all the credit for Pleasant Grove’s rough first half goes to the Mustangs.
“Herriman is a great team,” McAllister said. “They can play some tough, really hard-nosed defense. They came to play, were way more physical than us and we did not match it at all. I was disappointed with the first half effort. They caused us to look bad.”
That frustration lingered through the rest of the game, even though the Vikings turned things around and outscored the Mustangs 23-4 in the final period (including making all 19 free-throw attempts).
“I honestly never felt like we were up,” McAllister said. “I was so intent on us getting on us getting our act together and stopping them from doing to us what they did in the first half that I never felt good. When you get me feeling that cranky in the first half, it’s hard to get over it.”
Mikkelsen led the way for Pleasant Grove, while senior Casey Brown added 18 points. Herriman was paced by 14 points from senior center Blake Freeland.
With the win, the Vikings advance to face Fremont in the 6A semifinals.
“I’m thrilled for the team,” McAllister said. “This is a team that has been here a couple of years and we’re making progress every year. To make progress this year, there is only one outcome we can have. I’m happy we have the opportunity to move on.”
That game is scheduled to take place at 2:30 p.m. on Friday at the Dee Events Center in Ogden.
“The difference was when we started putting pressure on defense,” Mikkelsen said. “We forced some turnovers, got on a roll, started hitting free throws and that’s where it turned.”