Lincoln High's Jailynn Brill (41) blocks a shot in the second quarter against Millard North Friday night. Lincoln High won, 52-38.
Lincoln High's Jailynn Brill (41) blocks a shot in the second quarter against Millard North Friday night. Lincoln High won, 52-38.


Lincoln High beats Millard North 52-38 in the semifinals.

The pink shirts sported by every member of the Lincoln High basketball team before every game say it all: “Winning State Of Mind.” Despite coming into the playoffs as the #3 seed in a loaded Class A, the 23-1 Links have kept their sights on the state championship from the beginning. After dispatching Millard West in the first round, Lincoln faced a much tougher challenge against #2 Millard North Friday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena. 

Lincoln High set the tone immediately, hitting the ball forwards on the opening tipoff to a streaking Dyvine Harris to take a 2-0 lead just three seconds in. The Links played confidently and aggressively, not normally seen from a lower-seeded team, treating Pinnacle Bank Arena- just 2 miles from Lincoln High School- as their home court. Millard North looked hesitant to drive inside against Lincoln High’s defense, as the 2019 champs frequently settled for jump shots and contested 3-pointers. The Links frequently drove inside to draw fouls but could not build a significant lead as they struggled from the free-throw line. Lincoln High led 15-11, at the end of the first quarter. 

Avril Smith took control for Millard North in the second quarter, finding success against Lincoln High’s formidable interior defense and leading the Mustangs with 10 first-half points. However, even as Smith started to open up the inside game, Millard North’s shooters stayed cold, as the Mustangs didn’t make a shot from beyond the arc until three minutes before halftime. Head coach Dominique Kelley-Johnson had Lincoln High controlling the action and the pace, with senior guard Briauna Robinson barking for her team to slow down at points. The Links took a double-digit lead to halftime, looking to stay aggressive, while the Mustangs sorely needed other contributors to step up alongside Smith. 

Knowing his team was in trouble, Millard North head coach Chris Paulson dialed an ultra-aggressive defense designed to force turnovers and frustrate Lincoln High in the second half. It paid immediate dividends, as the Mustangs forced Lincoln High into calling timeout within seconds and came away with multiple turnovers at the start of the third quarter. The Links looked shaken up, as Jailynn Brill missed a wide-open layup, and the Mustangs pulled within five. However, Millard North’s offense was unable to come all the way back, and the quarter ended with the Mustangs behind 26-34, one quarter away from playoff heartbreak. 

By the fourth quarter, the effects of Lincoln High’s swarming defense finally began to wear down Millard North, as the Mustangs looked exhausted fighting through screens and struggled from the free throw line. Smelling blood in the water, Links 3-point specialist Nyawarga Jock (12 points) came in for the kill, sinking two huge three-pointers in the opening minutes of the quarter and demoralizing the Mustangs bench. With no energy left to defend Lincoln High’s relentless offense, Paulson’s team turned to fouling, sending the Links to the line six times in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t enough, though, and the exhausted Millard North team had nothing left in the tank for a comeback. The final two minutes of the game were a coronation for Lincoln High, as with the 52-38 win, they made the state finals for the first time in over three decades. 

After eliminating Millard West and Millard North, Lincoln High will attempt to make it a perfect three-for-three against Millard teams as they take on #1 Millard South Saturday night for the Class A state championship. Meanwhile, a Millard North season that showed so much promise to follow up their 2019 title ultimately fails even to reach the finals, as the Mustangs offense vanishes at the worst possible time. It’ll be a long offseason for this team, but with three returning starters, including Smith, and a deep bench, the future of this program is still as bright as ever.