Curtis High School boys basketball is on the cusp of advancing to the Class 4A state tournament for the ninth consecutive season.
Thursday night in University Place, the 4A SPSL champion Vikings outlasted a scrappy Battle Ground team, and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 63-56 win in the opening round of the 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament.
And a win in the upcoming quarterfinals against 4A GSHL runner-up Skyview would secure the Vikings (17-4) a spot in at least the state regionals.
“It means everything,” said Curtis senior Zack Paulsen, a Seattle Pacific signee. “The quickest way to the (Tacoma) Dome is to win two games in a row, so we’re halfway there.”
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Paulsen, who is averaging 21.5 points per game, led the way against the Tigers (14-8) with a game-high 30 points, and added six rebounds, five assists and five steals.
He scored the majority of his points in the first half, helping the Vikings climb out of an early deficit in the first quarter that reached as many as eight points on a Kaden Perry basket.
Curtis took its first lead midway through the second quarter on a Paulsen free throw, and trailed by one possession entering the break.
Paulsen, as he has often been this season, was a factor at both ends of the floor, finishing the half with 19 of his points, four rebounds and four steals.
“I want to do whatever it takes to win, and I know little things win games, so that’s definitely a big part of the goal,” he said.
He contributed plenty more in the second half. And, though he scored a single point in the third quarter, Paulsen played a distributor role, getting teammates like Isaac Morrow involved.
Morrow, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half, and pulled down seven rebounds during the contest. This after entering the game averaging just 6.3.
“Today, I guess something just clicked in my mind,” Morrow said. “We needed to win this game. Zach and I have been playing together for a long time.
“He knows where I’m at at all times, I know where he’s at at all times. So he kept on getting me the ball when I needed it, and I just capitalized on shots.”
Jared Franklin added 10 points — including a tip dunk, and a vicious one-handed slam he created off of a steal — and six rebounds for the Vikings.
“That gives us a lot of momentum,” Morrow said. “This is like his fourth game in a row getting a dunk, so keeping that streak alive. When he gets a dunk it lifts everybody up, and we just feel good after that.”
Yet, for every run Curtis made, the Tigers had an answer. Curtis opened the second half on a 9-0 run, capped by Franklin’s breakaway dunk, but Battle Ground ended it on an 11-4 run to tie the game at 41-41 entering the final quarter.
Vincent McCormic led all Tigers scorers with 12, though Nate Millspaugh, Brendan Beall and Kaden Perry each added nine. Perry also pulled down 13 rebounds, while KeAndre Hunter-Holliday tallied nine boards.
“They’re a very good team, obviously,” Paulsen said. “But, it all game down to us getting stops and then executing on offense.
“We started to do that in the fourth quarter, so that’s when we started to pull away. We were holding them to one shot, getting the ball and then making plays.”
Paulsen — who shot 10 of 16 (62.5 percent) from the field, and often connected on his trusty mid-ranger jumper — and Morrow combined for 17 of Curtis’ 22 points in the fourth quarter to help the Vikings finally pull away.
Curtis also did well to shut down Perry, a 6-9 sophomore forward, who, though he has been hampered by injuries, was averaging 17.5 points per game entering the contest.
“Our coach (Tim Kelly) made sure at all times that us three bigs had a body on him, and he couldn’t touch the ball down in the post,” Morrow said. “And when a shot went up, we made sure to box him out.”
Curtis will have to wait out the impending snowstorm that is due to hit Western Washington on Friday to know when it will play Skyview, but Morrow said the Vikings are excited to be one win away from a state berth — which the program hasn’t missed out on since 2010.
“Us seniors, we’ve been playing together for a long time, so every win from now on is emotional to us,” Morrow said. “It’s really important to us. This was very big to us.”
GIRLS 4A WEST CENTRAL/SOUTHWEST BIDISTRICT TOURNAMENT
Hazen 44, Curtis 43: The Vikings (16-5) will have to take the long road to the state regionals after dropping a heartbreaker in the opening round.
Curtis rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter Friday night against the Highlanders (15-7), and had a look at a possible game-winning shot, but a hard-luck bounce off of the rim just before the buzzer instead sent Hazen to the quarterfinals.
“We wanted to get a shot,” Vikings coach Jackie Thomas said. “We were supposed to start attacking at 10 seconds. We were in the double bonus, so we were trying to either get a layup or get to the free throw line.
“We gave the ball up a little to early, could have caught and shot. I didn’t think that was the best look we could get, but we got a shot at it.”
Curtis has two win two straight — including a rematch with 4A SPSL rival Sumner, which the Vikings beat twice in league play — to get back in position to advance to the state regionals.
“We can definitely do it. Our defense will have to carry us,” Thomas said. “I think we came out really flat, and (Hazen) came out ready to go. I thought that was the difference for at least two-and-a-half, maybe three quarters.”
Todd Milles contributed to this report.
BG – KeAndre Hunter-Holliday 5, Vincent McCormic 12, Colin Barton 6, Nate Millspaugh 9, Brendan Beall 9, Kaden Perry 9, David Reed 6.
C – Zack Paulsen 30, Jared Franklin 10, Jordan Parker 6, Maceo Lewis 1, Isaac Morrow 16.