TACOMA - Wa-Hi started strong and almost finished strong enough to earn a come-from-behind victory over Wilson at the boys Class 4A state basketball tournament here Thursday.
Sandwiched between the two, however, the Blue Devils suffered from a defensive lapse and an offensive dry spell.
In the end, the Rams, 20-8, escaped with a 52-44 quarterfinal victory that sends them into an 8:30 p.m. semifinal matchup with Kentwood, 18-10, at the Tacoma Dome today.
Wa-Hi, 23-6, faces a loser-out game against Eastlake, 19-8, at 3:30 p.m today.
Wa-Hi raced out to 10-2 lead over the Rams on Thursday with 3:39 left on the first-quarter clock.
The Rams then outscored the Blue Devils, 16-5, before the period ended.
The deficit was 18-12 before Wa-Hi's Colton Arias hit a 3-pointer as the time on the clock expired.
"The end of the first quarter, defensively, that was my fault," Wa-Hi coach John Golden said. "We just stayed in the zone for too many possessions. And we left the shooter open a couple of times.
"That was where we lost the game because we got so far down," he said. "But these guys dug deep and battled back to tie it up. I'm proud of their effort.
"I told them that's what they needed to do, and that's what they went out and did in the fourth quarter," Golden said. "Unfortunately, we just couldn't get over the hump."
Wa-Hi scored four points in the second quarter, hitting 1-of-8 attempts from the floor and two free throws, to trail 28-19 at halftime.
Both teams struggled offensively in the third quarter, with Wa-Hi putting six points in the book and the Rams adding eight to their total for an 11-point lead (36-25) entering the fourth quarter.
When Wilson took a 13-point lead (42-29) on a bucket by Xavier Cooper with 6:12 left in the game, Wa-Hi turned up the defensive pressure and stormed back.
Gary Winston, who scored 16 points for Wa-Hi, popped a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 10 (42-32) with 5:55 to play.
Wa-Hi forced turnovers on the next five-consecutive Ram possessions, and the Blue Devils converted the bobbles into 10 unanswered points.
Michael Weisner, who led all scorers with 18 points and all rebounders with eight, hit a 3-pointer.
Winston followed with another 3-pointer and a driving layin. Wa-Hi trailed by two points (42-40) at 2:59 of the fourth quarter.
Arias drew a foul and sank two free throws to tie the score at 42-42 with 2:07 left to play, and Blue Devil fans roared their approval.
The Blue Devil din became quieter again when Wilson's Demetrius Smith scotched the run with a short jumper and a free throw for a three-point play and a 45-42 Rams' lead with 1:47 on the clock.
Weisner closed out the Wa-Hi scoring with two from the line for a 45-44 score at 1:16 left.
A three-point play by Mikey Hope gave the Rams a 48-44 lead with 53 seconds left, and a Wa-Hi turnover with 39 seconds showing led to a pair of free throws by Jibreel Stevens for the final 52-44 score with 14 seconds to play.
Hope led the Rams with 14 points and five rebounds. Smith and Cooper scored 12 points each, and Stevens finished with 10 points.
Wa-Hi finished with 14-for-37 shooting from the floor (37.8 percent). The Rams went 21-for-43 (48.8 percent) and grabbed a 26-22 rebounding edge.
"Give credit to Wilson," Golden said. "They pressured us defensively. I'm not sure we've had that kind of pressure all year, and we kind of went stagnant offensively in the second and third quarters.
"It was tough, but I'm proud of the way these guys came back and tied it up," he continued. "We had our chances. We had a couple of good looks, but we spent so much energy getting it back tied that just couldn't get over the hump.
"We were able to turn up the pressure and get back in it," Golden said. "We just got down too much in the first half.
"Now, we have to bounce back. We want to play on Saturday, so we have to respond. We'll get some sleep tonight and come back ready to go."
The winner of today's game faces the winner of the Gonzaga Prep (21-3, a 60-59 loser to Federal Way in overtime) and Decatur (18-10, a 58-54 loser to Jackson on a four-point play in the final seconds) game at 2 p.m. today.
Saturday's battle for fourth-and-seventh place tips off at 1:30 p.m.
Thursday's game started more than an hour late when earlier games ran overtime. Then, players waited several minutes for a net to be replaced before the tip-off.
Midway through the second quarter, rebounders knocked a pad from the corner of a backboard, and players waited for 10 minutes while it was reattached with duck tape.
WILSON (52) - Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Smith 5-10 1-2 12, Waters 0-0 0-0 0, Hope 5-13 3-3 14, Stevens 3-8 2-2 10, Dam 0-1 0-0 0, Cooper 6-7 0-0 12. Peart 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 21-43 6-7 52.
WA-HI (44) - Winston 5-14 4-7 16, Aguiar 0-0 0-0 0, Porter 0-0 0-0 0, Arias 2-5 2-2 7 , Weisner 6-12 4-4 18, James 1-4 0-0 3, Alden 0-0 0-0 0, Watson 0-0 0-0 0, Sumerlin 0-0 0-0 0 . Totals 14-37 10-13 49.
Wilson 18 10 8 16 - 52
Wa-Hi 15 4 6 19 - 44
3-point goals - Wilson 4-14 (Jackson 0-1, Smith 1-4, Hope 1-3, Stevens 2-5, Dam 0-1), Wa-Hi 6-15 (Winston 2-6, Arias 1-1, Weisner 2-6, James 1-2). Total fouls - Wilson 12, Wa-Hi 14. Fouled out - Wilson (Jackson), Wa-Hi (Weisner). Technical fouls - None. Rebounds - Wilson 26 (Hope 5, Cooper 5), Wa-Hi 22 (Weisner 8). Turnovers - Wilson 9 , Wa-Hi 13. Assists - Wilson 6 (Stevens 4), Wa-Hi 7 (Winston 2, Arias 2). Steals - Wilson 5 (Smith 3), Wa-Hi 3 (Weisner 2).