Prep boys basketball: Mountlake Terrace caps stellar season with fourth-place finish at state tournament

Mountlake Terrace senior forward Zaveon Jones had 16 points and 16 rebounds for the Hawks on Saturday. (Photos by Joe Christian)

The Class 3A boys state basketball tournament 8 a.m. game Saturday pitted two teams that had entered the season-ending tourney with hopes of capturing the state championship.

But losses earlier in the tournament dashed the title dreams of both the Mountlake Terrace Hawks and the Garfield Bulldogs.

So the question Saturday morning at the Tacoma Dome was which squad could put behind their disappointment of missing out on championship glory and instead push for the state’s fourth-place trophy. It was evident early on that it was the Hawks that wanted the prize more.

With a spirited start and a poised finish, the Hawks defeated the Garfield 65-54 to cap off a memorable 24-4 season with a fourth-place finish

The top-six finish is just the sixth time in Mountlake Terrace school history that the boys’ basketball program has brought home a trophy from a state tournament. It’s also the second trophy in a three-year span, something not achieved previously in Hawks’ roundball history.

Hawks guard Joe Asalifew (13) glides to the rim for a layup.

“We’ve had such great players and such great coaches that I’ve been able to work with, but this is one you’ll really remember,” said Hawks coach Nalin Sood, who has been involved with coaching in the Terrace program for more than 35 years.

Sood said he would remember the 2023-2024 season because of the team’s lofty goals, some struggles along the way and the trophy-winning conclusion.

“It wasn’t looking good after Mt. Spokane (an 82-58 loss in a state tournament quarterfinal on Feb. 29),” Sood said. “And there’s times when it wasn’t looking good when you lose to Arlington (a 61-53 loss in the District 1 tournament championship game on Feb. 17). But at the end of the day, their body of work, their effort, their commitment to basketball — the basketball gods rewarded these kids. And that’s pretty cool.”

What may also be remembered for quite a while is how the Hawks convincingly outplayed the defending state champion Bulldogs on Saturday. Terrace held Garfield scoreless during the game’s first five minutes, yielded just five points in the first quarter and never trailed.

“We wanted to come out aggressive, guarding hard and being aggressive to the basket and (then) live with whatever happened,” Sood said. “And the guys did that.”

Jaxon Dubiel shoots for two of his 26 points Saturday. He averaged 19 points per game over the four games in the Tacoma Dome.

The Hawks were up 11-0 early after a sweeping left-handed shot by senior Jaxon Dubiel before the Bulldogs scored their first points.

Terrace built their advantage to 26-8 midway through the second quarter following back-to-back fast-break buckets by Dubiel, the first from an assist by Zaveon Jones and the second from a feed by Logan Tews.

Garfield, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, did chip away at the Hawks’ lead, pulling to within five points at 56-51 with 3:22 left in the game. But No.5-seeded Mountlake Terrace was then able to clamp down on defense, allowing just three more Bulldog points down the stretch.

The win avenged an 80-56 loss the Hawks suffered to Garfield in the 2022 4th/6th place state tournament game, a clash many of the Hawks seniors remembered and talked about in hushed tones around the locker room.

“I know Zaveon and a couple other guys had said something to some of the other coaches — they know better than to say something to me,” Sood noted about recent whispers of that Garfield loss two years ago. “But if that fueled their fire, through that experience, (and gave them) better wisdom, then that’s a credit to them.”

Gabe Towne (33) scores after pulling down an offensive rebound.

Following Saturday’s game, Jones wanted to talk about this year’s win over Garfield, not the loss two years ago.

“(Our) last game in the Dome; I’m proud of the guys and how, at the end of the game, we rallied together to get the win,” said Jones, who finished with 16 points and four assists.

Jones is one of several seniors on the Terrace squad who were playing in their third straight state tournament at the Tacoma Dome. He smiled as he understated the significance of the Hawks’ win on Saturday.

“It’s better than not placing (Terrace’s finish last year), it’s better than sixth place (the Hawks’ finish two years ago),” he said. “It’s pretty good.”

Jones had 16 rebounds in the win and helped limit the Bulldogs to just 10 offensive boards — half of what Garfield had pulled down in their previous game, a win over North Central on Friday.

“But still 10 (offensive rebounds) is a lot of rebounds; we should have controlled it a little more,” Jones conceded. “I’m still proud of how many rebounds we pulled down to control the game.”

The Mountlake Terrace defense shut down for much of the first half Saturday.

Sood was not concessionary with his team’s effort on the boards and instead called it a factor to Saturday’s victory.

“That was a big key for us (limiting Garfield to 10 offensive rebounds),” Sood said. “A big thing we talked about was rebounding. And we did a good job rebounding tonight; we’ve done that in this tournament.”

“We talked all year — I got this from Pat Riley (NBA and Hall of Fame-enshrined coach): ‘rebounds equals rings,’” Sood continued. “And Pat Riley’s pretty good so you might want to listen to him. We’ve used that as a mantra.”

Jones graduates from Mountlake Terrace as one of the program’s leading rebounders — and front-line scorers — in school history. He’s also a 6-foot-3, 235-pound running back who will pursue playing football at the collegiate level next year and has likely played his final competitive basketball game, giving Sood mixed feelings.

“Most people who think of him with football are smart, yes,” Sood said. “But they need to get their eyesight checked also because he’s equally as good at basketball. And if three years in a row of what he’s done on the court doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what more will. And he hasn’t done it against marginal guys. When the lights are the brightest, Zaveon steps up and he shows his ability and his talent.”

“He’s going to leave as one of the most decorated basketball players in the history of a pretty decorated program,” Sood said.

The Mountlake Terrace cheer squad in action on the floor of the Tacoma Dome on Saturday.

Garfield was led Saturday by the 10 points each of Dre Niko and Sammy Taylor, both of whom came off the bench as the Bulldogs starters were outscored by the Terrace starters 57-21.

Dubiel led Mountlake Terrace scorers on Saturday with 26 points, giving the senior 76 in the four games Terrace played at the tournament (19.0 points per game average).

“All I can say about Jaxon Dubiel is ‘Jaxon Dubiel,’” Sood said. “There’s no words that I can quip that everybody doesn’t know already. He’s leaving as our all-time leading scorer, but (also) he guarded one of their best players today. Then what he did rebounding. You know, Jaxon’s become more of a five-tool player.”

In addition to his game-leading scoring total, Dubiel pulled down eight rebounds, blocked three shots and had two steals, giving him 11 steals in four state games and the most of any 3A player at the tournament this year.

With seven seniors ending their prep basketball careers on Saturday (Jones, Dubiel, Tews, Gabe Towne, Joe Asalifew, Don Brown, Chance Chalmers), there were a few tears among the Hawks teammates. But there were many more smiles as the squad hoisted the fourth-place trophy.

“We wanted to win it (the 3A state championship); we came down here to win it, like everybody,” Sood said. “It doesn’t always go your way. There’s a lot of great programs that aren’t going to win it tonight.

“But what you walk away (with is) knowing you came to the Saturday (games) — that was our eighth goal; we have eight goals every year; we got seven out of eight last year and this year — but that was our goal. And then to end it on a note like this, they can carry this. It’s something nobody will ever take away from them for the rest of their lives.”

To view the entire 2024 Class 3A boys state basketball tournament bracket, visit www.wpanetwork.com/wiaa/brackets/tournament.php?act=view&tournament_id=4181&school_year=2023-24&district=0&sport=3&class=3A.

———

Mountlake Terrace 65, Garfield 54

Garfield 5 21 14 14 – 54
Mountlake Terrace 16 22 11 16 – 65

Mountlake Terrace: Jaxon Dubiel 26, Zaveon Jones 16, Logan Tews 8, Svayjeet Singh 8, Gabe Towne 7, Raychaun Connor, Joe Asalifew, Don Brown

Garfield: Sammy Taylor 10, Dre Niko 10, Isaiah Davis 9, Ishe Kanhukamwe 7, Legend Smiley 6, Jamari Harris 6, Ohmono Bomet 4, Ajayi Simmons 2, Marcel Jones, BJ Roy Jr., Roy Lee Williams Robinson, Kevin Richardson

Records: Mountlake Terrace 24-4; Garfield 17-8

Mountlake Terrace next game: 2023-2024 season completed (4th place finisher in WIAA 3A boys basketball classification)

Mountlake Terrace state trophies history (boys basketball)
– 4A State champions, 1976-1977
– 4A state 3rd place, 2004-2005
– 3A state 4th place, 2023-2024
– 3A state 4th place, 2021-2013
– 3A state 5th place, 1988-1989
– 3A state 6th place, 2021-2022

— By Doug Petrowski

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