RICHLAND – The Kennewick boys wanted a fast-paced game.
Third-ranked University was more than happy to give it to them.
The Titans scored a 95-81 victory over the Lions in a regional final to advance to the State 3A tournament in Tacoma next week.
Kennewick was fighting for its first state tournament appearance since 1989 and just its second since 1944. But University had also been long-removed from its last tourney showing in 1985.
Actually, it wasn’t so much the pace of the game that wore the Lions down as much as the defensive pressure, size and versatility of the Titans.
“They matched up with us very well athletically, and they’re very well-coached. Once they got going, they just never stopped,” said Kennewick coach Bradyn Leyde, who guided his team to a 18-5 season.
Kennewick guard Reggie Clinton scored a career-high 35 points on 14-of-23 shooting. The 6-foot-1 senior hit 7 of 12 from 3-point land and never stopped playing, fouling out in the final seconds of the last game of his high-school career.
“We knew they were going to be fast, but it’s different playing against them as opposed to seeing them on film,” Clinton said. “We’re usually the ones pushing the pace, but we got lazy on a few defensive possessions.”
Clinton’s first 3-pointer gave Kennewick an 18-17 lead with 1:21 left in the first quarter, but the Titans finished the frame on a 4-0 run to take the lead.
They wouldn’t trail again.
The Lions looked overmatched early against 6-5 guard Brett Bailey, who went coast to coast after a defensive rebound for the first points of the game. He had four rebounds and eight points in the first 8 minutes and 15 points in the first half. He finished with 21 points and muscled his way to a team-high 10 rebounds.
University guard Jared Miller also had a banner night, hitting 12 of 18 from the field. Miller also drained 5 of 9 from the 3-point arc for a season-high 33 points.
The 6-foot senior stuck to his pre-game routine of listening to Mariah Carey’s inspirational ballad “Hero.” Then he got down to the business of becoming one.
“I actually like playing on the road. It reminds me of summer AAU leagues,” said Miller, who hit a pair of 3s during a 17-0 Titans run that blew open the game in the second quarter. University hit its first eight shots over the first 4 minutes to open up a 35-18 lead.
“We’ve started a few quarters like that,” Miller said. “This time, we kept the streak going through the whole game.”
The Titans also did a fine job containing Bryce Leavitt, the Columbia Basin Big Nine 3A Player of the Year, holding him to 12 points through the first three quarters.
Leavitt scored 10 in the fourth, including a three-point play with 4:49 left to cut the Titans lead to 81-68. He finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and four steals.
“Every time I drove in they had somebody helping out. If I got past, they had another guy to pick me up,” Leavitt said.