The top-seeded West Eagles are in the championship game of the Class 4A state tournament, one victory away from purging from their memories a loss that has haunted them for a year.
West beat Colony 46-32 in a Friday night semifinal game at Sullivan Arena to clinch what escaped them last season — a spot in the title game.
The win sets up an all-Anchorage finale between West and Service, which downed East 66-63 in the other semifinal.
The Service-East game was a rematch of last year’s state championship, won by East.
The Service-West game will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, won by Service.
The Eagles haven’t forgotten that setback, not by a long shot. Da’Zhon Wyche, fresh off a 17-point game against Colony, brought it up unprompted.
“It’s great,” he said about getting past Colony. “We lost last year in the semifinals.”
West’s Don McMorris, who supplied 13 points in Friday’s win, flashed a smile when asked if that loss has motivated the Eagles.
“Yes ma’am,” he said. “Nine points.”
Nine points was the margin in that semifinal loss to Service.
It was also the number of points West managed to scrape up in the first nine minutes Friday, when apparently someone put lids on the Sullivan Arena baskets for the first half.
The game was more than four minutes old before Jhayde Zamora stole the ball and raced downcourt for a layup, giving West a 2-0 lead with 3:25 on the clock.
Colony led 7-4 at the end of the quarter. West led 16-12 at the half.
Shots fell off the wrong side of the rim, they spun in and out of the hoop, they banged off the iron. Some went long, some fell short. They went everywhere but in.
Colony hit 19 percent (5 of 26) and West hit 26 percent (7 of 27) for the half.
“We were nervous a little, and it’s hard to shoot it here,” Wyche said. “We were just energized early. We had to cool down a little.”
West coach Antonio Wyche, Da’Zhon’s dad, said it’s especially hard to shoot against the solid black curtain that divides the arena into two courts and provides the backdrop for the basket at one end of the court West and Colony played on.
The opposite basket is open-ended, creating issues for shooters who are used to a wall behind the hoop, which is the case at most high school gyms.
But the black curtain is worse than an open end, Wyche said, because the background isolates the basket. “And nowhere do you play where the hoop is isolated,” he said. Depth perception is nonexistent, he said.
By the second half, with the black curtain behind Colony’s basket instead of West’s, the Eagles found their rhythm.
Isa Wilson drained two 3-pointers during a 8-0 run that gave West a 28-20 lead, and in the final minute a flagrant foul by Colony’s Tucker Looney resulted in four straight points for West.
West took a 34-22 lead into the fourth quarter. Colony gave up a quick basket but then went on a 8-2 burst, capped by Bailey West’s 3-pointer, to make it 38-30 with 5:12 to play.
McMorris scored on a putback for a 10-point West lead at 4:21, and Colony never came within single digits again.
But the game still felt close. For more than two minutes, neither team scored while battling ferociously.
“They’re a great team,” Da’Zhon Wyche said, “and anybody can score 10 points in two minutes.”
Even after Wyche threw a court-length pass to Wilson, whose uncontested layup made it 42-30 with two minutes to go, it felt close. It felt close until the Eagles did the unexpected and spread their offense.
Usually an up-tempo team that likes to take on opponent one-on-one, West slowed things down, milked a minute off the clock, and cemented the win.
“It kinda just happened because they were trapping us,” said Wyche, adding that his dad had urged the Eagles to slow things down. “We like to just keep going, but we like to do what’s right.”
Service 66, East 63
Four players scored in double figures for Service, which hit 49 percent of its shots in an entertaining 66-63 win over East.
The game was tied eight times and the teams traded the lead 15 times.
Service never trailed after Reece Robinson’s layup 56 seconds into the fourth quarter, a shot that gave the Cougars a 50-49 lead.
But it was tied two more times after that, including 56-56 on a layup by East’s Haney Jacobo with just less than four minutes left.
Jacob’s basket capped a breathtaking burst by the T-birds, who got three steals — two by Matt Gwayi-Chore and one by Desmond Johnson — in a 30-second span and converted two into baskets.
Then it was Robinson to the rescue — his power move put Service on top 58-56 with 3:33, and East never tied it again.
Gomez drove for an East basket with 34 seconds to make it 62-60, but Service got breathing room with Ihro Raguindin’s soft jumper and Brad Wacker’s layup following a steal.
It was 66-60 with six seconds left, and all East had left was a 3-pointer by Johnson at the buzzer.
Robinson finished with 19 points, four steals and two blocks. Wacker had 16 points and nine rebounds and Raguindin added 14 points. Pindo Drammeh, limited to 23 minutes by foul trouble, contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds.
For East, which shot 46 percent, Gomez poured in 22 points and Johnson racked up 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Thunder Mountain 80, Kodiak 64
Thunder Mountain had five players in double digits as the Falcons took down Kodiak 80-64.
Matt Seymour was Thunder Mountain's top scorer with 18 points followed by Jacob Calloway with 15, Ryan Lee and Josh Palmer had 14 apiece and Ben Jahn added 12.
Alec Canete-Hall scored a game-high 23 points for Kodiak, which trailed the entire game.
West Valley 62, Lathrop 54
West Valley built a 34-17 lead by halftime en route to a 62-54 win over Lathrop.
Sean Kinsey led all scorers with 21 points and accounted for 66 percent of West Valley's 32 points from the bench. Daniel Hornbuckle added 12 points for the Wolfpack.
Tyreke Jennis scored 20 points for Lathrop, which got 13 from Kyle Carlson.
By BETH BRAGG