Most of the players have changed, but the approach remains the same.
A year after reaching the boys basketball state finals, Curtis High is again winning with defense.
“The one consistent thing should be effort on the defensive end,” Vikings coach Tim Kelly said after his team dispatched second-ranked Bellarmine Prep 48-41 in the semifinals of the Class 4A West Central/Southwest Bi-District tournament at Auburn High.
For the eighth time in 10 games, the Vikings held their opponent to fewer than 50 points.
“Our coach emphasizes defense,” said senior forward Darius Johnson-Wilson, one of two returning starters from last season. “We’ve got to have energy on defense.”
Curtis has had plenty of energy lately.
Since a disappointing loss to Kentwood in the South Puget Sound League championship last week, the Vikings have reeled off three straight wins, knocking off two ranked teams – they toppled No. 5 Union in the quarterfinals.
“That loss to Kentwood,” said Johnson-Wilson, who finished with 17 points, “that lit the fire.”
Against Bellarmine Prep, Curtis took control early and led throughout the contest.
When Bellarmine Prep’s Lucas Meikle converted a three-point play early in the third quarter that cut the Vikings’ lead to 22-20, Curtis clamped down on the Lions.
The Vikings went on a game-clinching 16-3 run over the next five minutes and led by at least eight points the rest of the way until Sefo Liufau’s put-back with nine seconds left brought the Lions within seven, 48-41.
Johnson-Wilson scored a game-high 17 points and Cameron Howell added 11 for Curtis.
Liufau finished with 12 for the Lions and Meikle had 10.
For the second year in a row, Curtis (19-6) has advanced to the bi-district finals. The defending champion Vikings will meet eighth-ranked Olympia (20-4) in the tournament finals at 6 p.m. Monday at Kent’s ShoWare Center. Bellarmine Prep (21-3) faces Mount Rainier (17-9) at 2 p.m. Monday at Auburn High in a consolation game for the bi-district’s third and fourth seeds.
All four teams have secured spots in the regional round of the state tournament.
No. 8 Olympia 63, Mount Rainier 59: Leery of being able to keep pace with the athletic Rams, Olympia coach Luke Salme pulled his team together for a pregame practice before leaving Thurston County for the bi-district semifinal.
“We had an hour-and-a-half long practice,” Salme said, “We got a good sweat in after breakfast.”
Warmed up and loose, the Bears held off the Rams and secured their first trip to the bi-district title game.
Mount Rainier’s Caden Rowland hit five 3-pointers in the first half, but Olympia limited the sharpshooter to a 1-for-2 effort from beyond the arc after halftime. Rowland finished with 20 points.
Brendan Leonard led the Bears with 17 points and Dominick Francks added 17.