DeLaSalle and Duluth East handily won their semifinals and will play for the Class 3A championship Saturday.
A pair of teams with size and quickness will fight it out Saturday for the Class 3A boys' basketball championship. DeLaSalle feasted on early turnovers in beating St. Thomas Academy, and Duluth East followed nearly an identical formula in routing a strong Waconia team.
"We know they're a great team; they're kind of like us," Duluth East forward Ben Heggestad said. "It should be a clash of two running teams. It'll be fun."
DeLaSalle 63, St. Thomas Academy 44: The Islanders knew how crucial it was to keep Bryce Webster, the Cadets' 6-9 star center, from getting off shots. Then they took it a step further. For a key early stretch, they kept the Cadets from getting any shots at all.
DeLaSalle (27-5) forced nine turnovers on the Cadets' first 14 possessions, picking off a slew of interior passes intended for Webster, in rolling to an early 12-4 lead. After St. Thomas Academy (26-6) took a two-point lead early in the second half, the Islanders turned up the heat again and put the Cadets away with a 29-6 run over the next 11 minutes.
"Defense is what we're known for," said senior guard Jamar Diggs, who led the Islanders with 19 points off the bench. "We've watched St. Thomas a lot, and we know they like to just throw it in to the big fella. We knew we had to make a play on the ball, or jam him so he can't get the ball."
Webster scored 19 points, but got little help from his teammates. Fellow Mr. Basketball finalist David Hicks was held to nine points on 4-for-14 shooting.
Although the Islanders' trademark is defense, head coach Dave Thorson added a new twist Thursday: He had his team push the tempo whenever possible. That opened the court up for easy transition baskets, especially in the second half when the Cadets began to tire.
St. Thomas trailed by 10 late in the first half but opened the second with a 15-4 run, jumping ahead 30-28 on Nathan Birr's three-pointer.
But the Islanders regained the lead, 31-30, on Royce White's short jumper with 11 minutes remaining, and they never trailed again. Webster, who got up limping after turning his right ankle on the play, said his team never seemed to recover.
"When I went down with my ankle, it just seemed like everything went bad," he said. Our team just lost our intensity ... it just fizzled out."
Duluth East 72, Waconia 61: The Greyhounds did what Greyhounds do. They ran.
For the second consecutive game, Duluth East (29-2) got off to a lightning-quick start. Converting turnovers into easy fast-break baskets, the Greyhounds raced to a 16-4 lead over the first five minutes and controlled the game from that point on.
Cory Johnson, Duluth East's star 6-7 forward, paced his team with 30 points, and also contributed 10 rebounds, three assists and four steals. Heggestad, Johnson's frontcourt mate, had 16 points, on 8-for-10 shooting, and guard Max Dibrell scored eight of his 12 points before four minutes had elapsed.
"We get fast-break points, and it works out great for us," Heggestad said. "We got out to a little bit of a lead, that gave us a cushion, and our style is just to keep moving, keep moving."
After Waconia (27-2) got within 23-18 midway through the first half, Johnson scored nine points during a 13-5 Greyhounds spurt that pushed the lead back to double digits.
Despite the lopsided score, and Duluth East's 58.6 shooting percentage in the first half, Chuck Tolo wasn't entirely pleased with his team's offensive performance.
"Our transition game is usually better than that," he said. "Boy, there were a lot of opportunities we didn't finish."