TACOMA — Rainier Beach coach Mike Bethea let his team have it.
The Vikings, the undefeated No. 1 team in Class 3A, coasted through the first half against No. 4 Bellevue. They didn’t run the ball up the court. They looked half-awake on defense. They trailed by one at halftime.
“Look,” Bethea told his team during the break, “the bottom line is you guys just are not playing hard. Right now, they’re playing harder than us. And if we don’t turn this around, it’s over.”
Bethea smiled in the retelling.
Most Read Stories
“I got the message through,” he said. “My way.”
Beach played inspired after halftime and pulled away from Bellevue for a 73-61win in Friday’s Class 3A state semifinals.
Beach (28-0) will play No. 3 Eastside Catholic (23-5) for a fourth time this season in Saturday’s 3A state-championship game. At stake for the Vikings is not only a crack at their third straight state title but also a trip to Madison Square Garden for a national-championship tournament.
Beach, though, looked in need of a kick in the pants in the first half.
Bellevue (21-5) has a talented team, but Wolverines coach Chris O’Connor also knew his group had to control the pace against Beach. That’s what happened in the first half. The Wolverines were picky in their shot selection, and they kept the game at a jog instead of a sprint.
Bellevue forward Jack Walton had eight of his team-high 14 points in the first half. The Wolverines scored the final seven points of the second quarter to take a 27-26 halftime lead.
“We just took our time offensively and made them play defense,” O’Connor said.
Bethea knew his team needed to change that. The Vikings have one of the most athletic rosters in the state, and they thrive when they’re able to get up and down the court.
“We want to basically make a team play faster than they want to play,” Bethea said. “We weren’t doing that. We were allowing them to play at their pace.”
Not so in the second half. Fueled on the defensive end by senior Djuan Piper, Beach delivered a decisive blow in the first three minutes of the third quarter. The Vikings opened the second half on a 12-2 run, and big man Elijah Foster had nine of his 18 points during the run.
“Unfortunately,” O’Connor said, “I wish we could take those first three minutes back.”
Beach guard Naim Ladd provided a jolt off the bench. He scored 15 points, but more important than that, he controlled the game’s pace.
David Crisp scored 18 points for Beach and Piper added 13, but the real turnaround came on the defensive end for the Vikings.