TACOMA – The sting of a State 4A semifinal loss a year ago has not gone away for the Gonzaga Prep boys basketball team.
The Bullpups had every chance to knock off Federal Way, which went on to win a second straight state championship with a 46-44 win over Gonzaga Prep.
So chalk up Gonzaga Prep’s 53-30 win over Enumclaw on Thursday as the first step toward erasing that memory.
The Bullpups put the defensive clamps on the Hornets, who had what little bit of sting in them extinguished during a 21-minute drought between baskets at the Tacoma Dome.
Gonzaga Prep (23-1) faces Kentwood (25-3) in the semifinals Friday at 5:30.
In other openers, Richland (21-5) assured there will be a new state champ with a 61-57 win over Federal Way; Union (20-4) throttled Kennedy Catholic 73-49; and Kentwood tripped Curtis 57-55.
Gonzaga Prep 53, Enumclaw 30: After a rough first quarter, the Bullpups held the Hornets scoreless until the final 35 seconds.
Anton Watson hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left to give the Bullpups a 28-12 lead going into halftime.
It got worse for Enumclaw (16-12).
It started with G-Prep’s Devin Culp, who put a Heimlich maneuver on Enumclaw’s leading scorer, Kaden Anderson.
Culp didn’t allow a point as Anderson went 0 for 7 from the floor.
“Usually that’s just my responsibility for the team, just go out and play as hard as I can on their best guy and get into their skin,” Culp said.
Culp said he asked to guard Anderson.
When G-Prep coach Matty McIntyre was asked about what Culp said, McIntyre said, “We’ll go with it,” and then smiled. “I thought Devin battled and did a great job defending him.”
Sam Lockett praised his teammate.
“That was our objective, to play (defense),” Lockett said. “We knew that all around we were better athletes, better team, so we went out to play the best defense we could. (Culp) said he wanted that job so congrats to him. I’m very proud of him and what the team did.”
By the end of the third quarter it was obvious Enumclaw wouldn’t be able to counter. G-Prep pushed the lead to 26 points before McIntyre cleared his bench.
Points are nice to McIntyre but defense is better.
“We hang our hat on the defense,” McIntyre said. “I thought our second and third quarters were outstanding, and we started creating some of our offense off the defense. That’s the kind of mentality I want us to have.”
Lockett led a balanced attack with 10 points, four rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots and two nice breakaway slam dunks. Watson had six points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“Great effort for the kids,” McIntyre said. “We know we’ll have another task (Friday). It was a good way to start the tournament but we know that there are more challenges ahead. Hopefully we can keep building on this.”
Not once did McIntyre or his players take it for granted they would be playing in the semifinals a second straight year.
“There’s been an underlying theme all along,” he said. “The kids felt a little unsatisfied last year with how things ended up. We were right there. We played very well, well enough to win in a lot of ways. That’s the game of basketball. We’re fortunate to have another shot. It’s incredibly difficult to get to this point. It’s a possession here, a possession there. It’s what makes the game great but it’s what makes it torture in the same breath.”
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