The victory chants started echoing through the Tacoma Dome long before the final buzzer sounded.
Students from Gonzaga Prep were jubilantly repeating “back-to-back” with more than six minutes remaining in Saturday night’s Class 4A boys basketball state championship game — and they certainly weren’t premature.
Boosted by a near-perfect, 20-point third quarter — and Gonzaga signee Anton Watson’s game-high 33 points, eight rebounds and four assists — the Bullpups blew by Mount Si to capture their second consecutive championship with a commanding 69-43 win.
“It feels great,” Watson said. “We go back-to-back, and just to see everyone excited, happy, it just feels great.”
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Gonzaga Prep (25-2) becomes the third 4A boys team to win back-to-back titles since the WIAA expanded to its six-classification format during the 2006-07 school year, joinging Federal Way (2015-16) and Ferris (2007-08).
“This group has been incredible,” Gonzaga Prep coach Matty McIntyre said. “They deserve this. And I’m just very happy for them.”
The Bullpups also finished their second consecutive season without a loss to an in-state team. The only two games Gonzaga Prep did drop this season were to two of MaxPreps’ nationally-ranked teams in Nevada’s Bishop Gorman (25th) and Florida’s University (15th).
In Washington, the Bullpups have proved unstoppable the past two seasons, including twice upending another national power in Federal Way — which the Bullpups topped in Friday’s semifinals, and last season’s title game.
“We’re always confident we’re going to win,” Watson said. “It’s been like that the last four years that I’ve been here.”
The Bullpups certainly weren’t lacking confidence against Mount Si. The lead changed nine times during the first 11 minutes of the game, but Watson gave the Bullpups the final lead, 20-19, with 5:39 to go in the second quarter.
Gonzaga Prep finished the half on a 13-4 run — including a Noah Drynan 3-pointer — and carried an eight-point lead into the break.
Watson, who was named the unanimous 4A tournament MVP by voting media members, proved a consistent frustration for Mount Si, and finished 16 of 19 shooting from the field.
He connected for eight of his baskets in the opening two quarters, eight more in the second half, and quickly became a matchup nightmare for the Wildcats.
“We definitely had an advantage down low, unlike last night (against Federal Way),” McIntyre said. “There was definitely a contrast from one night to the other, but I thought the kids did a really nice job of finding Anton in scoring positions, and Anton held a spot and went strong.
“He’s tough to handle down there.”
Tough? Perhaps impossible for a high school defender to contain — or, at least each defender who tried to limit him Saturday night.
“I just had to be aggressive and be assertive and get the ball,” he said.
Watson contributed six points to the Bullpups’ descisive third-quarter run — including two thunderous dunks that seemed to ignite Gonzaga Prep’s already scorching offense.
“Once I dunked it, I feel like that just brought the whole energy (up), and everyone just started to pick it up,” Watson said.
At one point in the third quarter, the Bullpups, who finished 31 of 48 shooting (64.6 percent) scored on seven consecutive possessions to push their lead to 20 points.
Mount Si (26-3) endured its longest scoring drougt of the game during that stretch, which lasted more than six minutes.
“At the end of the second quarter they got out and ran a little bit,” Wildcats coach Jason Griffith said. “Some of our trunovers turned into them scoirng on the other end.
“And then the third quarter was a buzz saw. They got a lot of confidence pushing the ball. I thought their energy increased, just becuase they knew they were bugging us on the defensive end. Before you know it, you look up and you’re down 20.”
Mount Si never recovered, and encountered a similar run in the fourth quarter, when the Bullpups scored on eight consecutive possessions, capped by a 7-0 run by Watson.
“At the end of the day, they have arguably the best player in the state, they’re extremely well coached and they share the ball,” Griffith said.
The Wildcats return much of their roster next season, including all three of their leading scorers from the championship game in junior Jabe Mullins (13 points), freshman Bennett O’Connor (13) and junior Tyler Patterson (12).
“It’s hard to get here,” Griffith said. “And that’s what I kept telling our kids. Everybody before the state tournament talked about next year, so i really tried to drill home, ‘Hey we’re capable of doing something this year,’ and they did.
“We beat a lot of good teams to get to this point. I don’t think it was an accident that we got here. but at the same time we got beat by a better team tonight.”
Sheadon Byrd added 11 points for the Bullpups in the win, while Liam Lloyd added nine.
Gonzaga Prep was one of four schools from Spokane — Mount Spokane boys and girls in 3A, and Lewis and Clark girls in 4A — that advanced to the Tacoma Dome, but the only one to secure a championship.
“It means a lot,” Watson said. “This is not just for G. Prep, this is for the city of Spokane, so it means a lot that we got the win.
“Shout out to the other teams in the (Greater Spokane League), because they got this far, but we had to finish it off. We had to win. We couldn’t lose.”
NO. 4 MOUNT SI
NO. 2 GONZAGA PREP
MS – Shooting: 17 of 45 (37.8 percent). Free throws: 3 of 4 (75). Turnovers: 12.
GP – Shooting: 31 of 48 (64.6 percent). Free throws: 6 of 11 (54.4). Turnovers: 6
MS – Bennett O’Connor 13, Jabe Mullins 13, Tyler Patterson 12, Brett Williams 5.
GP – Jacob Parola 6, Carter Sonneborn 5, Liam Lloyd 9, Sheadon Byrd 11, Anton Watson 33, Noah Drynan 5.