It might have taken a half to get going, but Willamette eventually found its groove Wednesday against Wilson.
The Wolverines were defensively dominant in a 50-18 victory in the Class 5A girls basketball state quarterfinals, and that made up for a slow start to No. 1-ranked Willamette's title defense. The Wolverines held the Trojans to one field goal in the second half and outscored them 32-10 to make it back to the state semifinals.
"Defensively, we couldn't ask for much better," Wolverines coach Paul Brothers said. "That's got to be some sort of record, I'd think."
It's not, though Willamette was a part of the state tournament game that holds the record for fewest points scored by one team and fewest field goals scored in one half -- the Wolverines were shut out in the first half of their 16-7 loss to Springfield in the 2012 championship game.
On Wednesday, Willamette senior Lexi Bando scored 18 points and had four steals, leading the Wolverines' aggressive defense that forced 18 turnovers and held the Trojans to single-digit scoring in every quarter.
"They make you work offensively," Wilson coach Mike Nolan said. "We just couldn't hit buckets. ... We couldn't get inside."
"Defense wins games," Willamette senior Kalani Kast said. "That's just kind of how it is with our team."
Willamette's smothering defense held Wilson without a field goal for long stretches. The Trojans scored their first points four minutes into the game and then didn't score again until the 7:03 mark of the second quarter.
For the game, Wilson shot 5-for-34 from the field.
"Really proud of our kids today and the way they played defense," Brothers said. "And they worked hard even though they weren't shooting the ball well in the first half. They worked hard the whole game."
The Wolverines (24-1) also struggled in the first half, but more out of self-induced miscues. They started 0-for-6 from the field and didn't score until Kast made one free throw with 3:40 left in the first quarter.
Willamette, known this season for sprinting out to big leads, led 6-2 at the end of the first quarter after shooting 2-for-11 from the field.
"I don't even want to say it was nerves because so many of us have been there before," Brothers said. "We just rushed stuff.
"It happens. Hopefully, that's the bad one we get out of the way offensively."
The Wolverines slowly built their lead to 18-8 at halftime, and they came out much stronger in the second half.
Bando hit her first three-pointer of the game 30 seconds in, and Kast followed with a three-point play. Autumn Baumgartner hit a three-pointer that pushed Willamette's lead to 27-8, and the rout was on.
"Share the ball more," said Baumgartner of what the team talked about at halftime. "Get three or more passes in before we take a shot."
By the end of the quarter Willamette led 36-13 and Wilson had scored five points -- all from the free-throw line.
Willamette continued to build momentum, opening the fourth quarter with seven straight points. Its reserves had played a total of one minute in the game, but after Bando stole the ball from Wilson's Ellen Berkley and went full-court for a layup with 5:12 remaining, Brothers said he finally felt as if he could play the four players on his bench.
"I just wanted us to get in a rhythm before the game was over and we finally did," he said.
Berkley led Wilson with six points.
The Wolverines play at 1:30 p.m. Friday against Lebanon. Willamette beat the Warriors 72-37 earlier this season. It's the third straight season the Wolverines have made it to the semifinals, and Brothers said there's been pressure all season to make it back.
"Nothing's easy in this deal," he said.