Lincoln boys basketball coach Aubrey Shelton really wanted to see his team cutting down those Puyallup High School nets for the second consecutive season with a district championship.
They didn’t get to, suffering their first loss of the season, 62-49, against Kelso on Saturday after being outplayed in just about every way.
But there’s some different nets they’d rather be cutting down in a few weeks, located in the Tacoma Dome.
“These guys went undefeated last year and that was great, but the ending wasn’t what they wanted,” Shelton said. “We still have an opportunity to have a better ending than last year and there are bigger nets to cut down. This doesn’t change anything. If anything, this is a big wake up call to how focused and dialed in we have to be.”
But back to this Kelso squad.
This team is tough.
Led by 6-foot-5 Shaw Anderson and his 18 points, the Hilanders (19-4) led by double-digits for much of the second half. They held Lincoln (23-1) to just 17 points in the first half.
Lincoln scored its fewest points of the season, and that was much because of Kelso’s long, physical defense.
“They just beat us. They beat us in every aspect,” Shelton said. “They were ready to play and played harder. That was the toughest team we’ve played all year and not just because we lost, but because they were physically tough. We couldn’t score going to the hoop.”
Lincoln’s best chance came at the start of the second half, when Le’Zjon bonds went on a 6-0 run of his own, getting to the basket and getting Lincoln running to cut Kelso’s lead to 28-23.
But Anderson, with some of his Kevin McHale-like post moves, had 10 points at halftime and Lincoln was forced to double- and sometimes triple-team him.
That left wide-open 3-pointers for Kelso guards Riley Noah, who scored 13 points, and Emmitt Kinch, who scored 11 and hit a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to push Kelso’s lead to 52-35 with less than five minutes to play.
“(Anderson) has been nothing short of outstanding. You can make the argument he’s the best player in this tournament,” Joe Kinch said.
“We haven’t seen an athletic big man like that all year,” Shelton said. “The big guys we see that are really good are the ones who play on the perimeter. We haven’t seen a guy inside that athletic and talented all year long.”
Kelso beat No. 9 Wilson, No. 5 North Thurston and No. 2 Lincoln on its road to the title.
“We just played good. I don’t know if we proved anything, to be honest,” Kelso coach Joe Kinch said. “We beat some good teams, but I think we proved that we’re pretty good, too.”
This was Kelso’s first district title since 1993, when it starred current Gonzaga University assistant Tommy Lloyd. Coincidentally, one of Kelso’s three losses this season was against No. 1 (4A) Gonzaga Prep, which starts Lloyd’s son, Liam.
But Kinch said that clock took a long time to finally wind down, especially with Lincoln trying to claw back with a relentless full-court press.
Both Lincoln (No. 3 in WIAA RPI) and Kelso (No. 6) are guaranteed spots in the Tacoma Dome since both are ranked in the top eight and shouldn’t move much further up or down entering the regional round of state next week, when both would play for a first-round bye.
“Hopefully we can take this loss and make it the best thing that happens to us because there are a lot of things we can improve, especially defensively and our mindset,” Shelton said. “It’s too bad we don’t get to cut down the nts and get the district title, but hopefully we can have this springboard.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
No. 2 LINCOLN
Kelso: Emmitt Kinch 11, Riley Noah 13, Peyton Noah 2, Reece Tack 2, Anders Gamble 5, Shaw Anderson 18, Jon Bowlby 11.
Lincoln: Emmett Linton 12, Le’Zjon Bonds 10, Willie Thomas 15, Anthony Braggs Jr. 9, Julien Simon 3.