When the State 4A boys bracket came out, everyone circled the lower semifinal as the game to watch for if seeds held. All Gonzaga Prep and Federal Way had to do was both win their quarterfinal games on Thursday.
Anton Watson scored 22 points, going 10 of 11 from the field with 14 rebounds, five assists, four blocked shots and three steals, and second-seeded Gonzaga Prep cruised past ninth-seeded Kentridge 63-40 in a quarterfinal matchup at the Tacoma Dome.
The Bullpups (23-2) advance to face Federal Way in a rematch of last year’s championship game in a semifinal on Friday at 5:30 p.m. – a game which will draw national attention as a showdown between two top-rated prospects who participated with the U18 national team last summer.
Gonzaga Prep beat Federal Way 54-52 in the title game last year to cap an undefeated season.
Federal Way beat Richland 81-58 in a quarterfinal earlier on Thursday to set up the eagerly awaited reunion.
“It’a going to be a tough game,” Watson said. “But we’ll be ready. We’re prepared for this.”
“We’ll have our work cut out for us. I think the kids are looking forward to it,” Gonzaga Prep coach Matty McIntyre said. “Whoever comes across the bracket you play, and it happens to be Federal Way. We’ll expect a great, hard-fought game.”
Kentridge didn’t have anyone that could match up with the Gonzaga-bound Watson physically, but Federal Way features 6-foot-11 Jaden McDaniels, the No. 5 high school prospect in the country.
McDaniels has narrowed his college choices to San Diego State (where his older brother Jalen plays), Kentucky, Texas, UCLA and Washington, according to the Tacoma News Tribune.
McDaniels averages 23.3 points and 10.4 rebounds and had a 51-point game earlier in the season.
“I’m going to have to be aggressive and go at him,” Watson said.
Cruz Medina led the Chargers with 11 points. Kentridge (21-7), the North Puget Sound champion, reached the quarterfinals with a 66-54 win over eighth-seeded Battle Ground on Wednesday.
Watson won the opening tip to Liam Lloyd, who went straight to the bucket for a layup – just like they planned.
“Yeah, (assistant) coach (Ryan) Carney’s tip play, drew it up before the game,” McIntyre admitted. “He drew that one up and got the kids going.”
Watson proceeded to dominate with 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and an alley-oop finish, and the Bullpups led 19-12 after one.
“We needed to show discipline and keep the game simple,” McIntyre said. “We had a major advantage inside. Throw it in there, good things are going to happen.”
“I don’t think they had anyone that could guard me,” Watson said. “I just had to be aggressive. They weren’t ever really double-teaming me. When I got the ball down low I’d just go up with it.”
With a couple of early fouls to Lloyd and Carter Sonneborn, McIntyre went to his bench in the second quarter.
Matthew Carney drilled a 3-pointer, and Sam Stockton picked up a three-point play and an inside bucket.
“They stepped up, big,” McIntyre said of his bench. “The game was still hanging in the balance. They came in, played great defense, hit some big shots.”
“We’ve got a lot of seniors who don’t get to experience this as much,” Watson said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing so it was cool to get everyone playing.”
Watson came back at the 3-minute mark and fed Parola and Lloyd for easy baskets, while picking up two more blocks on the defensive end. G-Prep led 35-25 at intermission.
Watson’s steal and fastbreak dunk capped a 10-2 run and made it 45-27 midway though the third. Watson had 10 in the frame, and G-Prep led 55-34 after three.
Kentridge scored six points in the fourth and settled for their season-low point total.
“So much of that was done with the second group,” McIntyre said. “They came in and gave us big minutes in the first half and continued that through the second half. Game ball goes to the second group.”
“We key on defense, so it was cool to hold them down like that,” Watson said.