Eastside Catholic (21-5) VS. University (15-9)
When: Thursday, March 6, 10:30 a.m., Tacoma Dome
What’s at stake: A spot in the 3A state semi finals against ether O’Dea or Wilson
Last game: Eastside Catholic surged to an early lead and overwhelmed Timberline 80-40 in its first round of 16 appearance since 1999.
University beat Kennedy 68-59 to earn a spot in the Tacoma Dome.
Players to watch for
University – Michael Isotalo, SR., Guard
Isotalo leads the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game, and has made more than half as many three-pointers (43) as two point field goals on the year (81).
“He is probably their most complete player,” Eastside Catholic coach Bill Liley said. “He does a nice job of facilitating their offense, running the point and coming off screens.”
With a wealth of shooters (six players have attempted more than 40 threes on the year), the Crusaders have to make sure Isotalo doesn’t get lost in the shuffle and find open looks.
University coach Garrick Phillips said Isotalo, a first team all-conference selection in the Greater Spokane League, is a, “gym rat” who can find his offense at any point in the game.
“He is a guy who can create his own shot at any time,” Phillips said, adding the physical maturation of his senior leader has added to his already prolific scoring ability. “To see his evolution and his strength and confidence has been really fun to watch.”
Eastside Catholic – Matisse Thybulle, JR., Forward
Thybulle lit up Timberline in the first half as the Crusaders built an insurmountable lead, and did it behind the arc, in transition and above the rim.
“I just blacked out,” he said after his team’s Regional win. “I made my first shot and they all started falling.”
With the length to shoot over smaller players, the athleticism to get out on the break and finish with authority and the unselfish nature that is a truism of all Liley’s players, Thybulle could create another mismatch against the Titans.
Crusaders looking for another defensive masterpiece
Eastside Catholic’s defensive pressure took its toll early in the Regional round game against Timberline.
The Crusaders used turnovers to create easy buckets and dunks, and held University of Washington commit Donaven Dorsey in check throughout the game.
Against University, with the program’s first state semi final appearance on the line, coach Bill Liley hopes to see more of the same.
“We’re really respecting University, and taking them seriously,” he said. “Our major deal is their overall ability as a team to shoot the basketball. That is the thing that stands out.”
Phillips and Liley are far from strangers.
The two longtime Washington prep hoops coaches have known one another since the mid 1990s, when Phillips was leading Mount Si and Liley was an assistant with Mercer Island under the legend Ed Pepple.
“We go back a long ways,” Phillips said of his counterpart in the 3A quarterfinals. “We always kept in contact, we’re both basketball junkies.”
The hallmarks of this group of Crusaders – an emphasis on selfless execution on the offensive end and unwavering commitment to defense and rebounding – are ones Phillips said he has seen for many years in teams Liley has been associated with.
“We’ve been noticing their offensive discipline,” he said. “That doesn’t surprise me at all with a group of kids coached by Bill.”
Since taking their current roles, Phillips and Liley have crossed paths during a team summer camp at Gonzaga, where they have played the past two years. The athleticism of the Crusaders, and their ability to make overzealous defenses pay with the three-pointer, are two things Phillips said has stood out.
“They have some scary-good athletes,” he said. “They can take the ball to the rack and move their feet to defend you.”
Liley echoed his counterparts sentiments, crediting the Titans and Phillips and adding he expects a major challenge.
“He is a great coach, and I know his team is going to be prepared,” Liley said. “He’s a great guy.”