TACOMA — Aaliyah Collins didn’t want all her clothing decisions to go for naught.
“I packed for four days,” she said, “so I was definitely not going to go home today.”
That being the case, the Glacier Peak High School junior point guard effectively said to her team, “Giddy up, get on my back, I’m carrying us to the quarterfinals.”
Collins was the catalyst, using her quickness on both offense and defense to turn the game on its head, and the Grizzlies overcame a horrendous start to defeat the Camas Papermakers 46-40 in the first round of the Class 4A girls Hardwood Classic on Wednesday morning at the Tacoma Dome.
Glacier Peak (21-4), the No. 6 seed, advanced to face fourth-seeded Chiawana in the quarterfinals at 9 a.m. Thursday. Camas, the No. 14 seed, finished its season 16-12.
The Grizzlies were in all kinds of trouble early as Glacier Peak was in disarray the entire first quarter. The Grizzlies committed careless turnovers, Collins’ backcourt running mate Maya Erling got into foul trouble, and when the Papermakers’ Haylie Johnson drained a 3-pointer just before the horn sounded Glacier Peak found itself trailing 19-6.
But that’s when Collins decided to take over the game. She used her quick hands on defense to create turnovers and her quick feet to get to loose balls. Once she had the ball in her hands, she dashed the other direction to create three-on-twos in transition, which her teammates converted.
“Honestly I think it was nerves,” Collins said of Glacier Peak’s slow start. “I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t nervous but I was really jittery and excited. I also think I came out too aggressive, thinking we would win this in the first quarter. But then I realized I have my teammates, and defense was the biggest key. After the first quarter it was an eye opener and we all calmed down.”
Collins’ defining moment came late in the second quarter when she reached up to grab the ball out of Camas post Faith Bergstrom’s hands in the paint — despite the 6-foot-2 Bergstrom having an eight-inch height advantage — then sprinted up the court and beat everyone for an uncontested layup that gave the Grizzlies their first lead at 24-22.
“At the end of the first quarter, it really reminded me of Central Valley all over,” Glacier Peak coach Brian Hill said, referencing his team’s 67-49 loss in last week’s state regional. “What we learned from Central Valley is we have to stay a little more positive, we have to take care of the ball, let’s play a little stronger, and Aaliyah we need you to get through all this.”
Indeed, Collins was effective in transition even when Camas was able to set up its full-court press, weaving through the defense as a one-player press breaker. Collins finished the game with 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and five steals.
“That’s kind of our press breaker, having Aaliyah go through,” Hill said. “We’ve talked about it, I’ve even had conversations with her and the team, ‘Do you want us to run it traditional or do you want us to just go through?’ She’s like, ‘I’ll get through it coach.’ So I love that confidence. They sent two people and then started sending three people, and that really helped us get back into it, actually. Their press kind of helped us because Aaliyah is so strong.”
Shaylin Sande added 10 points and five boards for the Grizzlies. Erling, Glacier Peak’s leading scorer, finished with just three as she spent much of the game on the bench because of foul trouble.
Bergstrom was the lone effective offensive player for Camas, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds. She also caused difficulties for Glacier Peak inside as she blocked two shots and altered several others.
After recovering in the second quarter, Glacier Peak began to pull away in the third, building its lead to as many as 11 points. But in the fourth quarter the Grizzlies missed their free throws, which allowed Camas to slowly climb back into the game, and at 43-40 the Papermakers had a good look at a 3-pointer that just rimmed out with 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining.
But Collins made one free throw to make it a two-possession game, then came up with a strip and layup in the closing seconds to seal the victory.