SNOHOMISH — About halfway through the first quarter of Wednesday’s girls basketball game between Lake Stevens and host Glacier Peak, Grizzlies post Kayla Watkins popped up to the top of the key to receive a pass.
Initially Watkins, who was being closely guarded by a Vikings player, looked to pass the ball inside, but she couldn’t find an open teammate. After a second, she dribbled once and looked inside again. Still nothing. But after another second passed by, she spied an opening in the lane. She began to dribble, executed a nice spin move to get around the defender, sprinted to the basket and laid the ball in with her left hand.
The play served as a microcosm of Watkins’ performance, as well as the game as a whole. The Vikings presented the Grizzlies with some stiff challenges, but Glacier Peak usually found ways to overcome them.
Glacier Peak’s 80-60 win in a game between two of the best teams in the Wesco 4A served as an early season statement that the Grizzlies, in their first year in the 4A ranks, could be in for a special season.
“This was a good win for us, because (Lake Stevens) is a good team,” said Grizzlies guard Paisley Johnson. “We knew this was a big game. We’re proud of this win because we had to work for it.”
Glacier Peak (2-0 league, 3-1 overall), ranked seventh in last week’s Tacoma News Tribune 4A state poll, is capable of beating teams with its perimeter game by relying on star guards Johnson and Samanatha Fatkin to create offense. The Grizzlies can also overcome their foes with their inside game, which is Watkins’ specialty.
On Wednesday, the Grizzlies beat the Vikings with their inside game. Watkins scored 28 points, her third outing this season of at least 25 points. She displayed good footwork inside to consistently get in good position for layups; rebounded well to convert second, third and even fourth chances; and made most of her free-throw attempts.
Watkins, a Weber State commit, is seemingly getting better and better.
“My teammates are getting me the ball inside, and I’ve been able to finish. That’s been my key,” she said. “No matter what, my teammates are always looking for me. If things aren’t open inside, I’ll pass it back outside and I’ll post up again. We work inside-out.”
“She’s dominating 4A. It’s her kingdom,” Johnson said. “There’s been no stopping her. She’s turned a corner. She’s working harder to get the ball and post up. She keeps going at it, and she’s working hard.”
The Grizzlies have had no problems scoring so far — they’re averaging 74.5 points per game. But they are concerned a bit about their defensive play.
“We need to play better team defense,” said Glacier Peak coach Brian Hill. “We need to get better at things like getting to the help side and blocking out. We have been getting better, though. Even though we gave up 60 (on Wednesday), I feel that this was one of our better defensive games. This was a good win for us. We’re the new kids on the block, so any time you can get a win like this, you take it.”
The Grizzlies dropped their first game of the season to a good Stanwood team, but have rebounded to win three straight games.
“(Coming into the season), we had a target on our backs, but that (Stanwood) loss opened our eyes a little bit,” Watkins said. “It was like, OK, we lost, and we learned from it. We went back to work, and we worked hard.”
Lake Stevens used a balanced offensive attack to take a 19-12 lead after the first quarter. Watkins then scored 11 of her 16 first-half points in the second quarter, helping her team to a 35-20 halftime advantage.
Lake Stevens’ offense came alive in the second half, doubling its points total from the first two quarters. The Vikings cut their deficit to 10 points at 68-58 on a Marissa Walton 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to go in the game, but could get no closer.
Kylee Griffin, the Vikings’ star guard, had a productive outing, scoring 23 points while showing a nice all-around offensive game — she scored on jumpers, layups, putbacks and free throws. Lake Stevens freshman Raigan Reed also had a nice game, scoring 14 points, including a couple of long 3-pointers.
“We have to have that from (Kylee) on a consistent basis,” said Vikings coach Randy Edens. “And with Raigan, every game we’re getting a little more from her. The game is slowing down for her. As with any freshman, there’s been moments where you cringe and other moments where you say ‘Wow.’ But it’s been exciting to watch her develop.”
Lake Stevens (0-1 league, 3-2 overall) has played a tough early season schedule, which Edens hopes will help his team later in the campaign. Right now, the Vikings are working on improving their fundamentals.
“Right now we’re trying to build a blueprint of what (our team) is going to look like, who we’re going to give quality minutes to. Some players are in new roles,” Edens said. “(But) we’ll come out of this game with some positives.”