Not many teams try to take it to Anton Watson in the paint on offense.
There’s a reason for that.
At 6-foot-9 with a wingspan to match, terrific vertical and a Division I acumen, Watson is an imposing figure underneath on defense.
On Saturday in the 4A regional round of state, the Curtis Vikings learned firsthand just how imposing Watson can be.
Watson blocked seven shots and hauled in nine rebounds to go with a team-high 17 points and second-seeded Gonzaga Prep downed seventh-seeded Curtis 65-47 in a 4A state regional at University HS.
The Bullpups advance to a state second-round game on Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Tacoma Dome against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round matchup between ninth-seeded Kentridge and eighth-seeded Battle Ground.
“Anton makes up for a lot of mistakes down there,” Gonzaga Prep coach Matty McIntyre said. “Whoever wants to challenge Anton, I say good luck.”
“They want to try to get him in foul trouble because they think he’s our only player,” point guard Jacob Parola said. “But we have a great defense that’ll back him up.
“He got like, how many blocks? So that’s the reason why people don’t go at him.”
Watson said he enjoyed the challenge.
“It’s always fun when the game is physical and everyone is going at it,” the Gonzaga-bound Greater Spokane League player of the year said. “If they bring it in to the hoop I’m going to try to block it. Every time.”
With Curtis keying on Watson on both ends, GSL and District 8 champ Gonzaga Prep (22-2) spread the scoring out.
Parola finished with 10 points – with a couple of nifty finishes on back-door cuts, Carter Sonneborn had 14 points and Liam Lloyd added 10.
“Anton is so good, so unselfish, he’s going to find the open guy,” McIntyre said. “In the last couple of games teams have been gearing up on Anton and we’re well above our average points per game so I think our offense, in many ways, looks great.”
McIntyre reiterated that this squad is more than a one-man team.
“Let’s make no mistake about it – Anton makes this thing go, but we’ve got guys that can do some things on both ends.”
Curtis (19-6), of University Place, was the South Puget Sound League champion and the second seed out of the highly-contested West Central/Southwest district tournament, bowing to No. 3-ranked Federal Way 73-67 in the title game.
Zack Paulsen led Curtis with 17 points, and Soloman McGinnis added 16.
Prep got down 10-4 quickly as Jordan Parker popped a couple of 3s. But Watson blocked Jared Franklin’s dunk attempt, and the Pups used a six-point run to tie it.
Parker hit from long range again and Curtis led 19-12 after one – but Parker didn’t score again.
“The scouting report said guard No. 4 (Parker) and we lost him a couple of times,” McIntyre admitted of the somewhat rough start.
G-Prep scored the first seven points of the second quarter and Noah Drynan’s steal and fastbreak layup tied it again at 19.
Watson had six in the frame, and the Bullpups defense held Curtis to four points in the second. G-Prep led 28-23 at intermission, despite hitting just 5 of 12 from the line.
“That’s what we do to teams,” Watson said. “We play all 32 minutes and we don’t get down after a bad quarter. We came back with that fire in the second quarter.”
Early in the third Watson came up with a pair of blocked shots on the same possession. Watson found Parola on a backdoor screen to make it a 12-point game with 2 1/2 minutes in the third.
Back-to-back 3s by Lloyd and Drynan (seven points) made it a 15-point game, and G-Prep led 52-36 after three.
“We knew this was coming. Teams are loading up on Anton,” McIntyre said. “We’ve been working on this stuff since December, preparing for this kind of environment.”
The lead hit 20 midway through the fourth on a reverse layup by Sheadon Byrd (seven points) and Watson picked up his fifth blocked shot on the next possession.
McIntyre pulled most of his starters with 2 minutes to go, and with the regional win his team avoids playing a first-round game on Wednesday.
“We get another day off to prepare, get a day off to rest the kids’ bodies. It’s really hard to play four games in a row and have to win and have your best at the last game on Saturday.”
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