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TAYLORSVILLE — The men’s and women’s basketball teams at Salt Lake Community College both received selections into the NJCAA National Tournament Monday, with both team’s head coaches leading the Bruins to continued success in their first years on the job.
The men, led by former Utah State and Idaho State assistant Kyle Taylor, have not slowed down a bit in the first season since former championship-winning floor general Todd Phillips departed for Utah Valley. The Bruins are 29-4 on the season and have not lost since last year, making them the last team opponents want to face.
The Bruins were selected as a No. 4 seed in the tournament and will receive a first-round bye before heading to Hutchinson, Kansas, to face either No. 13 Western Wyoming or No. 20 Angelina on March 18 at 12 p.m. MDT. SLCC already faced Western Wyoming earlier this season, beating the school by 10 points at the end of November.
SLCC does the most damage in transition, by keeping the pressure on the other team. Match that offensive philosophy with the team’s brand of lockdown defense, and it has made for a special squad. The Bruins are so dominant defensively, they are holding opponents to a 40% shooting percentage – an unworldly 28% clip from three – and are outrebounding teams by seven.
Having to face teams the Bruins have already played for the second and third time in the tournament does aid game planning, but Taylor said his team’s abundance of depth makes it difficult for teams to prepare for. There are eight men on the team who average 7-plus points per game and all 11 rostered players have had multiple double-digit scoring games this season.
“I think our team is hard to prepare for and hard to scout,” Taylor said. “There are just so many different ways that we can beat you. You don’t dig into the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth guys if you haven’t already played them.”
After sweeping the Scenic West Athletic Conference, Taylor said his team is excited by the prospect of facing tough teams like John A. Logan and Tallahassee, as well as the schools SLCC has already seen this year.
“Those are the types of teams that we want to play. Our guys are going to be excited. Obviously, we have some work to do,” Taylor said. “Those are really talented teams with highly recruited guys, and you’ve got a talented team with highly recruited guys, so that would be a really fun Elite 8, Quarterfinal matchup.”
The SLCC women’s basketball team was selected as the No. 18 seed in the NJCAA National Tournament set to face Butler on Tuesday, March 17 in Lubbock, Texas.
As the season began, the Bruins had just one returning player who was receiving regular minutes due to injuries the other returners were dealing with. Following a 3-4 start to the season against tough opponents in tournaments in Texas and New Mexico, SLCC went on a 15-game tear and closed up the season going 9-3 in conference play.
As the year progressed, head coach Marcilina Grayer saw her team learn how to play together and realize player roles. Grayer has been with the program as a coach for seven years, but this is her first season leading the team after taking over for longtime head coach Betsy Specketer.
“It was a tough start, for sure, but I think it did help us in the long run,” Grayer said. “We were starting out really young trying to teach this new group everything about how we do things, so I think that hurt us early.”
Grayer doesn’t think the Bruins have a chip on their shoulder to prove themselves in the tournament. She said her team is more focused on preparing for the athletic style of play they will see in teams outside of the West.
“We talk about what we need to do, or why we were knocked out the past couple years in the first round,” Grayer said. “It truly has been due to athleticism and the pressure — the ball pressure and how quick the pace is, because we don’t see that on this side of the west. It’s not as athletic, so it’s a different scenery for our girls.”f
Butler is no different. The Bulldogs like to run the ball and use their quickness to keep constant pressure on their opponents. SLCC wants to slow the game down and force Butler to guard half court sets.
“The girls are really starting to click now, which is the best time to do so heading into the tournament,” Grayer said. “ What we’ve been really focusing on this year and the past couple weeks heading into the tournament is being able to deal with the pressure.
The women’s team has seen recent success in the tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 in the last several years. For two consecutive years, however, the Bruins have seen first round exits from the tournament. Now, with a young team full of fresh faces, they are ready to break that streak.