TACOMA – Lake Washington boys basketball coach Brian Lund said University’s game plan looked like the Titans had the Kangaroos right where they wanted them – in their pouch.
Lund was right.
University coach Garrick Phillips asked senior 6-foot-5 post Conner Johnson to push Lake Washington’s 6-foot-10 post Darien Nelson-Henry off the block and toward the perimeter where he isn’t as comfortable shooting.
Johnson was the Titans’ defensive most valubable player as U-Hi rallied in the fourth quarter to knock off the Kangaroos 60-55 in a State 3A tournament opener Thursday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
“It was almost football style to get (Nelson-Henry) off the block,” Lund said of Johnson’s defense. “He took probably six or seven shots off the block that we don’t want him to shoot. My hat’s off to that team (U-Hi). They scouted us right and they did what they needed to do. That’s what I would have done against us. We talked about that all week, what are they going to do. Well they’re going to get Darien as far away from the basket as they can … and they did a phenomenal job.”
The task becomes even more difficult this afternoon when the Titans (20-4) take on heavily favored Rainier Beach (24-3) in the semifinals at 3:45.
U-Hi led by as much as eight points in the second quarter only to watch the Kangaroos cut it to 31-28 by halfftime.
LW used a 9-2 surge to open the second half to take a 37-33 lead. A basket by Matt Staudacher, who finished with a game-high 30 points, gave the Kangaroos a 46-41 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Titans got a break at the 6:45 mark of the final period when Nelson-Henry sprained his right ankle, which he’s had trouble with the last two years. He left the game with LW ahead 46-41, and by the time he returned with 3:32 to go, U-Hi had pulled within 52-51.
That’s when U-Hi senior point guard Jared Miller split LW’s defense twice on drives from the perimeter for layups that gave the Titans a 55-52 lead with 2:06 remaining.
Brett Bailey and Zach Bruce each made a foul shot for U-Hi, Bruce’s shot giving the Titans a 57-52 lead with :45 to go.
Jeffery Staudacher then hit a 3-pointer from 26 feet, cutting the lead to 57-55. Miller hit two foul shots and Bruce made one as U-Hi held off LW.
U-Hi, which has struggled from the free-throw line all season, made just 16 of 30 shots.
“A couple of plays you could obviously see we were a little nervous,” said Titans junior Brett Bailey, who had a team-high 19 points and nine rebounds. “Once we got settled in we started to handle it and started to play our game.”
Zech Martin added 12 points, five rebounds and two steals for U-Hi.
“We were trying so hard to exploit matchups but we stopped playing,” U-Hi coach Garrick Phillips said. “We stood around and watched a little bit and that’s not who we are. We got stagnant. We really hammered that in timeouts and between the third and fourth quarters. I just felt if we stuck to what we were trying to do and kept our movement that things were going to come around.”
The Titans limited Nelson-Henry to nine points.
“He’s a really good player,” Phillips said. “All we could do was try to make it tough on him. Conner Johnson is bigger and stronger than that kid and he wore him out.”