TACOMA – Each of the Gonzaga Prep boys basketball players got a knock on their motel room door at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.
An hour later, they were at Curtis High School for a shoot-around. About four hours later they completed a thorough flattening of the Auburn Trojans, 65-33 in a State 4A tournament opener at the Tacoma Dome.
The Bullpups (24-2) made an eye-opening statement. For their reward, they’ll face the most difficult challenge of their season this afternoon when they face off with No. 1-ranked and defending state champ Federal Way (24-2) at 3:30.
In a late game, Mead ran into a brick house in the form of 6-foot-9, 285-pound Josh Smith, who scored 19 points in the first half as the Kentwood Conquerors manhandled the Panthers 57-44.
The Panthers (19-7) take on Lake Stevens (18-6) in an elimination game at 2.
Gonzaga Prep 65, Auburn 33: The Bullpups made the Trojans look like they didn’t belong at state. They certainly didn’t look like the team that beat Mead 64-59 in overtime in late December.
“We were focused. We weren’t going to mess around,” junior guard Chris Sarbaugh said. “At 5:30 this morning Coach walked into our room and gave us an apple. We went for a shootaround at 6:30. It woke us up and got us in game mode.”
It was paramount to Bullpups coach Matty McIntyre that his team turn the early start into a positive.
“We wanted the boys to get some shots up and were very intent on them being wide awake and get moving,” McIntyre said of the early rising. “We thought that was critical. We kept preaching with the 9 a.m. game that this is to our advantage, so let’s make the most of it.”
Sarbaugh had the quickest start for the Bullpups. He scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the first half as G-Prep bolted to a 29-11 lead by halftime. He ended up making 9 of 15 shots from the field and had eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“I wanted to get us off to a good start,” said Sarbaugh, who was the sixth man on the Bullpups’ fourth-place team at state a year ago.
“He was unbelievable. He was just everywhere,” teammate Ryan Nicholas said. “That’s just how he plays. He came out big today.”
“When he’s in attack mode, there’s nobody better,” McIntyre said. “He makes our team go. Ryan Nicholas carries the load, Chris Sarbaugh steps on the gas peddle. And when we’re going fast, we’re a pretty good team. He can make a lot of things happen out there.”
Nicholas was saddled with foul trouble. He played just 18 minutes and 21 seconds, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds. His extra time on the bench could be a blessing in a four-day tournament.
The Bullpups’ defense limited Auburn to a season low for points.
It’s going to take a similar effort against tall, athletic Federal Way.
“They’re super-talented. Everybody has them picked to win it,” McIntyre said. “I just know that our kids will be very well prepared.”
Kentwood 57, Mead 44: The UCLA-bound Smith scored whenever and wherever he wanted, especially in the first half.
Smith made 9 of 13 shots in the first two quarters, most coming deep in the key.
The Conquerors got out to a 13-0 lead before Mead’s Brendon Myers hit a 3-pointer at the 3:40 mark.
“They did a nice job. They isolated him (Smith) and they took advantage of his size,” Mead coach Glenn Williams said. “We didn’t see from film that they would do that that much. Hats off to them.”
Despite trailing 35-13 at halftime, Mead opened the second half with increased intensity, using a 9-2 spurt to pull within 37-22 with 5:43 to go in the third.
The Conquerors (17-10) started to shake off their slow second-half start when Smith, after two misses, completed a three-point play that extended Kentwood’s lead to 42-24. Then moments later, Smith finished off a press break.
Mead 6-7 senior post Aaron Dunn’s chin got in the way of Smith’s shoulder as he finished off another strong move for a basket with 58 seconds left in the quarter.
Smith finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds to go with five assists and two blocked shots.
The final margin matched Kentwood’s 13-0 start.
“I told the kids that we needed to win the second half to build,” said Williams, whose team outscored Kentwood 31-22 the final two quarters. “We’re looking forward to building on that.”
Smith said it was important that Kentwood start well.
“What’s important for us is to make sure we throw out the first punch,” Smith said. “They’re a great team and we didn’t want to wait to see how good they were. We wanted to make them play our game and make them come to us.”
Mead’s Garrett Swanson came off the bench for 15 points.
The Panthers pulled within 50-41 with 1:49 remaining. But they couldn’t get any closer.