Anytime a player scores nearly as many points as the opponent, it should be a favorable outcome.
Such was the case Friday when Naje Smith poured in a career-high 30 points to lead the No. 9-seeded Lewis and Clark Tigers to a convincing 59-34 win over the No. 16 Bellarmine Prep Lions in the 4A regionals at West Valley High School.
Lewis and Clark (17-8), which has won 12 of its last 15, moves on to the Tacoma Dome on Wednesday to face No. 8 Sunnyside (19-4), an 80-44 loser to top-seeded Gonzaga Prep. Tipoff for the Tigers will be the day’s final game at 9.
The first words out of Smith’s mouth were praise for his teammates.
“I was just really feeding off my team,” said the 6-foot-7 senior, who had 19 rebounds, four blocks and three dunks. “They were really encouraging me. I was just working really hard on the glass to help my team win this game.”
LC coach Jim Redmon said there was much room for work after his team started the season 5-5.
“We feel like we’ve been going the right way – just not as fast as coaches would like,” Redmon said. “We thought starting with the Ferris game (at district) we started to play a little better. We felt at that point we were trusting each other and things were coming together. It’s just kind of evolved to this point.”
Except for nine turnovers, there wasn’t much not to like about LC’s start in the first half. The Tigers led 22-9 at halftime.
“It was just coming out in a new environment and we had to get our feet under us,” Smith said of the early turnovers. “In the second half we came out a lot more composed and took our time. Everybody was into the game – our bench, our coaches and our fans gave us a lot of energy.”
After the Lions scored the game’s first basket, they went scoreless the rest of the quarter. Eight minutes had elapsed before they scored their second basket.
The Tigers’ length influenced some poor shooting by the Lions.
A basket inside by Smith off a nice lob pass from Griffin Effenberger put LC ahead 22-9, its biggest lead, with 34 seconds left in the second period.
LC more than doubled up the Lions in the third quarter, taking 43-17 lead into the final period.
A three-point play by Smith gave LC its biggest lead at 46-17 with 6:35 to go.
Smith said he likes where his team has landed on the state bracket – on the opposite side of G-Prep and Richland.
“We have great positioning to get to the state championship,” Smith said. “That’s what we’re really hoping for.”
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