Expect this Life Christian Academy boys basketball team, which has won the past four Class 2B Pacific League titles, to make a run at a fifth later this month.
After that, expect the Eagles (8-3) to play through February, and perhaps deep into the first weekend in March at the state tournament in Spokane, where the program has wrapped up its season each of the past four years.
Life Christian proved Thursday night in a 71-37 rout of Northwest Christian of Lacey (9-2) that it has the talent and depth to make a long playoff run.
“I feel like this is the first time we’ve put two halves together, four quarters,” Eagles coach Charles Simmons Jr. said. “We’re a young group, we’re still learning, but the goal is to just get better every single day, every single game.”
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And, ultimately, to end the season in Spokane.
“That’s been our goal from Day 1, is to be there in the end, and play our best basketball in March,” Simmons said.
Life Christian appears to be making strides in that direction. Thursday night against the Navigators — whose only loss entering the contest was by 1 point to league-leading, undefeated Willapa Valley — the Eagles had 10 players contribute by scoring, including three who finished in double figures.
“Our biggest thing right now is just getting guys to buy into, ‘We, not me,’ and understanding if we do that as a group, we’re all going to get what we want in the end,” Simmons said.
Sophomore guard Omari Maulana, who was the 2B Pacific co-MVP as a freshman, led all scorers with 16 points in three quarters played, and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Senior Noah Robinson added 12 points, and freshman Bradley Swillie, who transferred from Tacoma Baptist this season, pitched in 10.
Maulana, who averages a team-high 17.5 points per game, was making just his fourth appearance this season after returning from an early groin injury. He’s been in double figures scoring three of his four games back, despite playing limited minutes in some of those appearances.
“It feels great,” Maulana said. “I’m just glad to be back on the court with my brothers.”
“It’s just good to have somebody who can go get a basket, and on top of that, an athlete like him that can defend full court or in the half court,” Simmons said. “He’s a great leader, and I think it showed we were missing him when he was gone. It’s definitely a pleasure to have him back.”
Maulana scored 12 of his game-high 16 points against the Navigators as part of a 26-point second quarter that boosted the Eagles to a 38-19 lead at halftime.
Life Christian never trailed in the contest, but Northwest Christian pulled even at 12-12 at the end of the opening quarter.
“What we’re really working on right now is adjusting, and coming out strong from the very beginning,” Maulana said. “We just locked in and realized, ‘We need to pick it up right now.’ ”
Freshman Dai’Shaun Nichols scored the opening bucket of the second quarter, and the Eagles outscored the Navigators, 26-7, in the period to build a double-digit lead they never lost.
“I told them at the end of the first quarter, ‘Let’s just settle down.’ Our goal is to hold guys under 10 points (per quarter), they got 12,” Simmons said. “I feel like we gave them a lot of stuff in that first quarter, just sloppy play, but we just told them to settle down and focus on the defensive end.
“Our defense is always our best offense, and that’s what we hang our hat on here. Defense really turned it around for us.”
Life Christian forced 18 turnovers, and held the Navigators to 15 of 45 shooting (33.3 percent). No Northwest Christian player reached double figures in scoring, with Jude Phillips and Nick Tarabochia leading the way with nine points apiece.
NWC – Shooting: 15 of 45 (33.3 percent). Free throws: 5 of 12 (41.7). Turnovers: 18.
LCA – Shooting: 31 of 68 (45.6 percent). Free throws: 7 of 11 (63.6). Turnovers: 7.
NWC – Jude Phillips 9, Tyler Fox 6, Landon Koukal 5, Nick Tarabochia 9, Davis Yates 3, Tony Dominguez 5.
LCA – Derek Wallace 3, Dai’Shaun Nichols 4, Omari Maulana 16, Joseph Hall 4, Josh Cordek 5, Jevin Shaughnessy 2, Noah Robinson 12, Bradley Swillie 10, Chae Haynes 6, TeJhan Potts-Woods 9.