By Bob Lundeberg | For The Oregonian/OregonLive
Photos by Amanda Loman, for The Oregonian/OregonLive
CORVALLIS — Wilsonville’s resume since the Les Schwab Invitational can only be described as flawless.
A 1-3 showing at the prestigious tournament due largely to missing key players because of injury, but an event that also included a Wildcat victory over Class 6A power Lake Oswego, and a strong performance at the Capitol City Classic that culminated in a competitive 7-point loss in the championship game to nationally-ranked Rancho Christian (CA) helped prepare the Wildcats for Northwest Oregon Conference play and beyond. The early-season experience is paying dividends for the defending Class 5A champions.
Fourth-seeded Wilsonville extended its win streak to 18 games Wednesday afternoon at the Class 5A state tournament with a comfortable 61-42 quarterfinal decision against No. 5 West Albany at Gill Coliseum. Next is a semifinal date with top-seeded Churchill, a rematch of last year’s title game, set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I mean, we’re really excited to play them,” said Wilsonville senior Dakota Reber, a two-time Northwest Oregon player of the year. “They’re the No. 1 team, so we definitely want to see how we match up against them.”
The Wildcats (22-5) got off to a 4-5 start this season with losses to Class 6A quarterfinalists West Linn, Clackamas and Jesuit and out-of-state behemoths Rancho Christian (California) and Eastside Catholic (Washington). Reber sat out most of the LSI with an ankle injury, and Keegan Shivers missed half of league play with a thigh contusion.
Despite the adversity, Wilsonville caught fire after the CCC and LSI and won its final 16 regular-season games by an average of 30.1 points. The Wildcats routed Corvallis 66-38 in the first round to qualify for their 12th consecutive state tournament.
“I think we learned a lot about ourselves as a team at those events, maybe especially the LSI because we were losing and missing players,” senior Gabe Reichle said. “Playing in those events really brought us closer together. We sort of figured out who we are, and it was a really good experience for us. … It prepared us for now and the teams we’re playing in this tournament.”
Added Reber: “It helped our confidence, starting the season playing against such good teams. Playing those teams first and then going into league, it just made things easier.”
Everything looked easy in the first quarter of Wednesday’s quarterfinal for the Wildcats, who opened with a 9-0 run that seemingly occurred in the blink of an eye. Shivers delivered a perfect lob pass to Reber for a two-handed slam on the game’s first possession.
“Me and Keegan just have that connection,” Reber said. “He knows where to throw it and I just go get it.”
Reber canned a buzzer-beating three-pointer to make it 19-9 after one quarter. Reichle had 11 points in the first half — including a transition one-handed slam — as Wilsonville entered the break up 31-18.
The Bulldogs (20-6), making their first state tournament appearance since 2014, continued to hang around and pulled within eight at 48-40 on TJ Zimmermann's jumper with about five minutes remaining. But the Wildcats’ efficient offense was too much down the stretch for the Mid-Willamette runners-up.
“Our guys made a run like we knew we could, it just wasn’t quite enough,” West Albany coach Derek Duman said. “We were one basket away from me calling timeout and kind of getting us to catch our breath. I think we lost our wind after that big run.
“I would’ve loved to see us down six with three minutes left. I think it would’ve been a fun finish.”
Wilsonville shot a staggering 24 of 32 (75 percent) from the field, finishing with more turnovers (11) than missed field goals. The Bulldogs were 17 of 41 (41.5 percent) overall and 3 of 11 (27.3 percent) from three-point range.
The Wildcats' .750 field goal shooting set an all-time, all-classifications Oregon boys basketball state tournament record for team field goal percentage for an entire game.
“Everybody on the floor can score for them, and they’re all 6-2 or higher,” Duman said. “We’ve got some big kids as well, but when their 6-6 is elevating over our 6-2 with a hand in his face and scoring, there’s not much more you can do defensively.”
Reber led all players with 20 points to go with three rebounds and three assists. Andrew Classen added 16 points, four assists and three rebounds. Reichle had 15 points, four assists and four steals.
The Wildcats have won three of the past four state championships and are trying to reach the title game for the sixth consecutive year.
“I think we’re playing really well right now,” Reichle said. “But I think we can play even better.”
Zimmermann paced the Bulldogs with 14 points.
Earlier in the day, Churchill netted the game’s first 11 points in a runaway 70-47 victory over No. 8 Crook County.
Brian Goracke led the Midwestern champions with 23 points and eight rebounds, and Isaiah Wallace chipped in 15 points. Evan Pia (12 points, five assists, four rebounds) and Silas Bennion (10 points, five assists, five rebounds) also shined for the Lancers, who are in the state tournament for the ninth consecutive season.
Eastern Washington signee Kaelan O’Neil is not with Churchill for the state tournament.