EVERETT — Big Bend had been one or two timely makes away from some breathing room its entire Elite Eight game against Centralia.
The lead hovered around double digits and was nine points entering the fourth quarter.
And then it arrived. An avalanche of points the Trailblazers could not match.
Miranda Johnson from the left corner. Good.
Kayla Luke from the top of the key. Swish.
The nine-point lead grew to 21 after a 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter and Big Bend advanced to its second consecutive Final Four 79-52.
“That’s what broke their backs, those back to back 3s,” head coach Preston Wilks said. “That was real critical for them to both step up and hit those 3s for us.”
Big Bend will meet fellow No. 1 seed Umpqua in Saturday’s semifinal.
Offense was spotty throughout the quarterfinals as the third-seeded Trailblazers used their zone to make any dribble penetration difficult and deflected passes to create 27 turnovers. Despite the gaudy amount of giveaways, the Vikings led wire-to-wire and were, for a majority of the contest, multiple possessions ahead.
Similar to the Sweet 16, Big Bend was paced by its sophomore duo of Johnson and Leah Dougherty. Dougherty scored nine consecutive points in the first quarter and Johnson provided a game-high 25 points.
Johnson shot 50 percent from range, adding three steals and a block, in her first Elite Eight experience after missing last year’s game due to injury.
“It meant a lot (to play) and I didn’t take it lightly and I knew that this could potentially be one of my last games so I just came out and played as hard as I could and tried to do everything I can to help us get that W,” she said.
Where Centralia tried to frustrate Big Bend with a fluid zone and turnover-inducing deflections, Big Bend countered with strong positional defense and rebounding. The Vikings won the rebounding battle 50-32 and point guard Luke spearheaded the defense with five steals. The Trailblazers were held to 30 percent from the field and 15 percent from 3-point range.
“They definitely caught us off guard with getting their hands on a lot of balls and we just focused on faking a pass, making a pass and just being strong with the ball and then on defense talking and matching their intensity,” Johnson said.
C 12 13 13 14 — 52
BB 16 18 13 32 — 79
Big Bend: Miranda Johnson 25, Leah Dougherty 15, Hannah Wilson 14, Kelsey Sorenson 8, Abby Broadbent 8, Anna Yarbro 4, Kayla Luke 3, Sydney Bishop 2
Centralia: Lindsey Nurmi 10, Piper Cai 9, Allani Tallapu 8, Megan Cash 7, Devanie Kleemeyer 6, Caitlin Yenne 6, Jamie Connally 2, Becca Snaza 2, Quinlan Christian 2