Timberline High School coach Allen Thomas knows what’s coming.
During the past two weeks, the sixth-year coach has kept a sharp eye on the Blazers’ upcoming opponent in the 3A state regionals.
He watched as Kelso, far from the favorite in the 3A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament, tore through four South Sound schools on its way to a title.
Here’s what he said he noticed about the Hilanders: “Ultimately, their chemistry and their toughness were deciding factors in each game.”
Kelso opened its dominant run with a 22-point win over Peninsula. Then, the Hilanders upended Wilson in the quarterfinals, even with UConn signee Emmitt Matthews Jr. throwing down 31 points.
North Thurston, the 3A South Sound Conference champion, was held to its worst shooting night of the season against Kelso in the semifinals.
Jeremy Spencer, who averages 21.5 points per game, was held to just 11. And Clay Christian, a 20.2 points per game scorer, had only 12.
“They defended Clay and Jeremy very well,” North Thurston coach Tim Brown said after the loss.
Then, in the bidistrict title game, the Hilanders shocked defending champion Lincoln with a double-digit win, ending the Abes’ perfect season.
“They just beat us. They beat us in every aspect,” Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton told The News Tribune after the stunning loss. “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.”
So exactly how does a South Sound team stop this trend against the Hilanders?
Thomas and Timberline (19-5) have some ideas, and they’ll be the latest team to try to solve the Kelso (20-4) puzzle at noon Saturday at Battle Ground High School.
Both teams are guaranteed a trip to the Tacoma Dome next week, but the winner gets a coveted first-round bye.
“They’re definitely a different matchup compared to what we’ve played,” Timberline senior Casson Rouse said. “It’s going to be tough for us, but we’ll be ready.”
Shaw Anderson, Kelso’s 6-foot-5 star, poses the biggest threat. The junior averages 21.8 points per game, and scored 30, 27, 32 and 18 points in his four bidistrict-tournament appearances.
“Anderson, by far, is probably the best post player that we will have played,” Thomas said. “He might be the best player that we’ve played against this season. …
“He’s just willing to take whatever the defense gives him. He’s very talented. He’s someone we have to game plan and scheme against.”
Anderson’s versatility makes him the most difficult matchup, and Timberline will have to find ways to keep the ball out of his hands. He floats around the court, can shoot, and has a dominant presence in the paint.
“He’s a tough matchup in high school basketball, and he’s only a junior,” Thomas said.
Apart from Anderson, Kelso has two guards who can shoot consistently from the outside in Riley Noah (13.2 points per game) and Emmitt Kinch (10.7).
“We know they can come out and roll,” Rouse said. “We just have to be ready for it.”
Timberline has its own combination punch, Rouse said, with its three senior guards.
Rouse (9.3 points per game), Eli Morton (13.3) and Wichita State signee Erik Stevenson (23.7) could offer a good counter to Kelso on the perimeter.
Kelso is a fine-tuned machine, Thomas said. Timberline’s defense will be important in trying to keep Kelso out of sync.
“The few losses they do have were against teams that didn’t overpressure them that much, but kept them in front and made them look for stuff,” he said.
Controlling the tempo at both ends of the floor, and the Blazers capitalizing on their own athleticism could offer an advantage.
“That’s who we are,” Thomas said.
This will be Timberline’s second trip down to the greater Vancouver area this season. The Blazers ripped Union, a 4A state regionals qualifier, 77-50, in December.
That was the best game the Blazers have played this season, Thomas said.
“When we played down there we all played so balanced and played team basketball,” Rouse said. “We’re a hard team to stop with our talent level when we play all together.”
Timberline is looking for a similar trip this weekend.