Issaquah (18-6) VS Jackson (23-1)
When: Thursday, March 6, 5:30 p.m., Tacoma Dome
What’s at stake: A spot in the 4A state semi finals against either Garfield or Kentridge
Last game: Issaquah rolled Bellarmine Prep 64-46 in the Regional round. Jackson lived up to its ranking as the top team in Class 4A, beating Stadium 67-33.
Players to watch for
Jackson – It sounds cliche, but with three seniors in double-figures, and each returning to a prominent role after leading the T-Wolves to the 4A title game last year, there isn’t just one player for the Eagles to focus on.
Jason Todd, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington last season, is second on the team in points per game (17.1), the leader in rebounds (10.5) and assists (4.1) and is also averaging nearly two steals per contest.
Dan Kingma, who has made more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined with 81, and fellow senior Brian Zehr combine to average nearly 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game.
Issaquah – Cory Nevin, SR., Forward
Junior guard Ty Gibson was the lone first team All-KingCo selection for the Eagles, but Issaquah coach Jason Griffith said this week, the focus could be shifted to senior Cory Nevin.
“I’ve been challenging Cory Nevin every day in practice,” Griffith said. “If he plays hard and brings his enthusiasm, I think he going to impact this game on both ends.”
Nevin is averaging better than eight points and five rebounds per game, and will be plenty busy chasing around Jackson’s experienced scoring threats.
Pushing the pace
Against Bellarmine Prep, Griffith said his team’s ability to push the pace was a key, especially with the Lions playing minus one of their most athletic players.
“We’ve been doing a good job pushing the ball and looking for early opportunities,” he said. “Our guys are comfortable with our transition offense.”
The Eagles have been held under 60 points only once since the New Year, in a 51-39 win over Roosevelt, and are averaging 67 points per game in four postseason contests.
By contrast, the T-Wolves have allowed an opponent to score 60 or more only once twice all season.
The first came in the season opener, a 79-60 win over Edmonds-Woodway, while the other resulted in an 82-62 playoff win over Snohomish.
Nothing new for Eagles’ players
Being on the same court as Kingma and Todd will be nothing new for a host of Issaquah players who spent time on the same AAU team as the Jackson standouts.
Nevin, Addison McIrvin, Brian Watson and later Gibson played with some of the Timberwolves (along with 4A KingCo Player of the Year Josh Martin and 3A KingCo MVP Kyle Foreman) during their youth, and Griffith said that familiarity lessens the intimidation factor of a team that has lost only a single game on the year.
“They are comfortable playing Jackson,” Griffith said. “I think from a competition standpoint, they will be at ease.”
Griffith has talked all year about the bond between his players, many of whom have been together on the court since their elementary school days.
When he looks at Jackson, and especially their senior-laden nucleus, it is like looking in a mirror.
“They are a close core, with a close bond amongst those players,” he said. “The first thing that stands out, they are competitors.”
One difference between the two squads is their postseason experience.
Issaquah has broken through to the round of eight for the first time since their Class 3A runner-up season in 2002-03, and does not have a player on the roster who has taken a shot in the Tacoma Dome.
The T-Wolves reached the 4A championship game last year, and reached the state tournament every year since 2009-10.