Zack Paulsen has never been swept by a Class 4A SPSL team in the four years he’s played basketball for Curtis High School.
That streak almost ended Thursday night in University Place, but Paulsen, a veteran senior and the league’s reigning co-MVP, wouldn’t let it happen, despite playing with a nagging ankle injury he tweaked again earlier in the week.
The Seattle Pacific signee scored a team-high 30 points, including the game-winning shot with 11.3 seconds to play, to lift the Vikings (12-4) to a thrilling 66-65 overtime win over Puyallup that keeps them in reach of a fifth consecutive league title.
“We made plays when we had to make plays, and our coach and my teammates (gave me) opportunities to make plays,” Paulsen said.
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Trailing by a point with less that 30 seconds to play in the overtime period, Paulsen brought the ball up the floor and patiently ran the Vikings’ offense.
Four passes exchanged hands before senior Solomon McGinnis set a pick for Paulsen, who split two defenders and pulled up near the free throw line as he was swarmed by four golden jerseys.
Paulsen extended in the air and coolly sunk the same 10-foot jumper he’d been knocking down throughout the contest, giving the Vikings the decisive basket.
Paulsen, who is 6-4, said, because he’s often been tasked with playing in the post this season, he’s worked more on his mid-range game.
“The last couple of years I’ve either just been getting to the rim or shooting a 3, but I realized since I’m going to have to play play post more, that should probably be in my repertoire,” he said. “So, I started practicing that a lot, and getting more consistent.”
Paulsen shot an impressive 13 of 19 from the floor (68.4 percent), often connecting on that same jumper, either coming off of a ball screen or simply driving into the lane and pulling up in front of defenders.
He was often double- or triple-teamed, and more often than not, he hit his shots with 6-8 Puyallup forward Dylan Rhoades reaching a hand toward his face. Paulsen also added five rebounds and drew three chargers on defense.
After Paulsen hit the game-winning basket, Puyallup (13-3) tried to counter quickly, with sophomore Cobi Campbell driving into the paint and sending a floater toward the rim just before time expired.
It hit the front iron, then the backboard.
Curtis senior Isaac Morrow swatted the ball away, denying Puyallup’s Kendall Munson a rebound and last-second put-back attempt, and Jordan Parker corralled the ball as the buzzer sounded, sending the Vikings faithful flooding onto the court.
“It’s big momentum,” Parker said. “We’re fighting for a league title right now, and they just opened the door for us.”
But, the thrilling win almost didn’t happen. With less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation, Curtis trailed by three points, and Puyallup had fouls to give, using one that set up Curtis on the sideline near midcourt.
It appeared Puyallup would attempt to foul more, and run more time off of the clock, but McGinnis spotted Parker alone in the corner, and hurled the in-bounds pass to him. The senior, who pitched in 13 points, nailed the 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
“Jordan can flat-out shoot it, and that’s his spot,” Curtis coach Tim Kelly said. “I was surprised he was that open. And Solomon made a heads-up play to look down the floor and find him.”
“I kind of just found the laces, and as soon as I released it, I knew it was going in,” Parker said.
Parker’s tying 3-pointer perhaps saved Curtis’ chances at a 4A SPSL title. The Vikings move into a tie for second place with Puyallup, and both trail league-leading Olympia, which Curtis plays Saturday, by a game.
“He makes big plays, and he has some guts, man,” Paulsen said of his teammate. “He’s not scared to take any shot.”
Munson, who transferred from California earlier this season, led the way for Puyallup, scoring a game-high 31 points and pulling down eight rebounds. He shot 11 of 13 (84.6 percent) from the floor, and made 9 of 15 free throw attempts. Jaeden Ingram added 11 points, three rebounds and three assists for Puyallup.
Puyallup was more consistent on offense, shooting 61.1 percent from the floor to Curtis’ 44.3 percent, and had more free throw attempts. But, Puyallup also turned the ball over 17 times, and couldn’t stymie Curtis’ hot shooting streak in the second half.
“I think they made one more play than we did,” Puyallup coach Scott Campbell said. “I’m really proud of our guys. I thought we played hard. I thought we executed.”
He hopes Puyallup, which is still in the running in the 4A SPSL after Sumner topped each of the top three teams in the past week — Olympia, Curtis and Puyallup — to shake up the standings, can improve from the loss.
“Games like this are good to go through,” Scott Campbell said. “You learn more about each other, and what’s going on, and how people respond. It’s part of our process.”
Each team in the 4A SPSL has either four or five games remaining, and plenty of scenarios are still possible.
“It’s very competitive,” Scott Campbell said of this year’s league. “If you don’t show up with the right mindset and right intensity level, you’re going to get beat, really any game. It’s not just the traditional teams that are the powerhouse teams. There are teams all throughout the league who can beat you.”
P – Shooting: 22 of 36 (61.1 percent). Free throws: 16 of 27 (59.3). Turnovers: 17.
C – Shooting: 27 of 61 (44.3 percent). Free throws: 7 of 8 (87.5). Turnovers: 6.
P – Cobi Campbell 6, Jacob Holcomb 3, Luke Holcomb 9, Zane Foster 3, Kendall Munson 31, Jaeden Ingram 11, Dylan Rhoades 2.
C – Zack Paulsen 30, Jared Franklin 6, Jordan Parker 13, Solomon McGinnis 6, Josiah Miller 2, Isaac Morrow 9.