DES MOINES -- Some may have questioned how good Cedar Falls would be this season without A.J. Green.
Tuesday, the defending Class 4A state champions put the rest of the Class 4A state tournament field on notice. The Tigers are not just good. They're really good.
In a rematch of a first-round game last March, seventh-ranked Cedar Falls hammered sixth-ranked Sioux City East 63-41 in the opening game of the 4A state tourney at Wells Fargo Arena.
"I think they felt there was a little doubt, a little wonder of who we'd be this year," Tigers head coach Ryan Schultz said. "I think they have forged an identity into defense, toughness and balance. I think those would be the words I'd use to describe our team."
When the Tigers are clicking on both ends of the floor with their lock-down defense and versatile offense, they are nearly unstoppable. Tuesday, Cedar Falls was good on offense as points came from all over the floor, and possibly better on the defensive end.
"Whatever happens, we have proved ourselves and I think we have a shot," senior post Jack Campbell said. "I think the big elephant in the room was what was this team going to be like without A.J., and I think this team is just as good, maybe even better than last year's."
The Tigers (19-3) overwhelmed a Sioux City East team that came in averaging 76 points a game. The Black Raiders (21-2) rarely got good looks and leading scorer Aidan Vanderloo, no matter which Tiger defended him, could not find time or space to shoot. Vanderloo was held to four points, 19 below his season average.
East shot just 29.8 percent from the field (14 of 47). Vanderloo was 2 of 12.
"Our defense has been our catalyst all year," Schultz said. "That is where we really try to be locked down."
"I think we played defense for four straight quarters," added senior guard Logan Wolf. "That really helped us and propelled us to the win. It was a team effort."
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After trailing early, Cedar Falls began to take control late in the first quarter. Wolf hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 8-all with 2:35 to go in the first, then Jaxon Heth scored the next five points to push the lead to 13-8.
By halftime, the Tigers led 33-19, and after East scored the first basket of the third quarter, back-to-back 3-pointers by Josh Ollendieck and Wolf stretched the lead to 19 points. A Wolf lay-up with 4:42 left gave Cedar Falls its first 20-point lead, and the advantage was rarely under 20 the rest of the way.
"We wanted to put it on them just like last year," said senior forward Jackson Frericks. "We knew they wanted to come get a piece of us, and we wanted to put the pedal to the metal and we got that done."
Wolf led all scorers with 21 points, while also grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out five assists and blocking two shots. Campbell added a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Eight different Tigers scored as Frericks added nine and Heth eight off the bench. Cedar Falls shot 50 percent from the field.
"When we play defense like we did, it turns into offense, and when we are spreading it around like that we are pretty hard to stop," Wolf said.
Cedar Falls will play North Scott, which defeated Ames Tuesday, in a semifinal game Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
"We are ready for the next one. We are going to be prepared, and we're going to go out and get the win. That is the plan," Wolf finished.