Auburn recovers, overwhelms South Kitsap to clinch regional playoff berth

Watson pours in 29 points; Trojans dominate the floor

Recovering from a foiled quarterfinal effort, Auburn came out fast and furious to keep its boys basketball season alive Monday night.

Quick to the ball and swift to unleash its devastating transition game, the eighth-ranked Trojans shot the lights out early to eliminate South Kitsap 80-66 in a West Central/Southwest District playoff at Mount Tahoma High School and clinch the program’s first trip to the 4A regionals in seven years.

Sophomore guard Dae’Kwon Watson scored 29 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter, and sophomore guard Maleek Arington and junior guard Amar Rivers each had 17 points for the Trojans.

Auburn (22-4) remains in the hunt for the district’s fifth spot to regionals with a chance to improve its rating percentage index (RPI), the rankings of which pair teams for the upcoming brackets.

The Trojans advance to play Olympia (18-5) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Tacoma’s Wilson High School.

Disappointed by its 61-57 second-round loss to Sumner last Friday, Auburn recovered with a complete-game effort – good shooting, smothering defense and a relentless full-court attack.

Against Sumner, the early shots didn’t fall for Auburn, whose young bunch struggled and played out of character, coach Kevin Hansen observed.

Not so against South Kitsap.

“Our backs were against the wall tonight,” Hanson said. “It was a do-or-die thing so the kids were pretty dialed in, pretty focused. We had a great start, and when you see your shots going through the hoop early it gives you more confidence.”

Arington added: “That (Sumner) game really made us angry. In practice we played harder. … We were looking forward to our next game.”

The Trojans raced to a 10-0 lead before the Wolves (11-13) ended their drought three minutes into the game. South Kitsap moved to within 15-9, but that was as close as it would get the rest of the way. Auburn pulled away to lead 23-11 after the first quarter.

Auburn widened the margin to 47-27 at the break, with Watson draining a pair of 3-pointers and Arington scoring all seven of his points in the final 1:18 of the half.

The Trojans’ transition game quickly turned the game into a rout. Auburn led by as many as 29 points in the second half.

“We wanted to speed that team up … pressure them, get out in transition,” Hansen said.

Arington was ready to ignite the show with steals, lobs and passes to his open teammates who flooded the lanes to the basket.

“When I can push the ball up the floor and see my teammates cut … I’m always looking to do that,” Arington said. “When I push the pace we get more offense going. Usually, I slow it down, but when I push it we get more buckets.”

Hansen likes that his players share the ball and the responsibilities.

“We have some pretty heady guards. They’re unselfish and look for each other,” he said. “It’s a good recipe for getting out in transition.”

For now, the Trojans stay in the hunt for March and a state spot at the Tacoma Dome. Much works needs to be done to get there. For a group that has been playing together since the fourth grade, their goals are within reach. A state berth is within sight.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been to state,” Arington said. “Coach Hansen keeps telling us we are one of his favorite teams, and we’re going to keep that in our heads and keep pushing and knowing what our goal is as a young team.”

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