March 20, 2009

Salem, Va., - Junior Aaron Thompson, Elida, Ohio (Elida) scored a game-high 30 points and connected on a career-high eight three-pointers as the No. 2 ranked and defending national champion Washington University in St. Louis men's basketball team posted a 77-58 victory over No. 23 Guilford College in the national semifinals on Friday night at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.

Washington University, which recorded its school-record 28th win of the season, takes on the winner of No. 6 Richard Stockton College and Franklin & Marshall College on Saturday, March 21, at 3:05 (ET) in the National Championship. The game will be televised on CBS College Sports Network. This marks the second-straight national championship game appearance for the Bears.

"In the middle of the second half, our defense started generating points and we started getting buckets both on the perimeter and at the basket," said head coach Mark Edwards, who won his 505th career game on Friday. "That one run in the second half was the difference in the ball game for us."

Washington U. connected on just two of its eight shots to start the first half, but four three-pointers got the Bears' offense going Junior Cameron Smith, Noblesville, Ind. (Noblesville) ended a two-game scoreless streak with a three from the corner, and then Thompson hit his first three from the top of the key to five WU the 10-5 lead.

Three-pointers by Thompson and sophomore Caleb Knepper, Newton, Ill. (Newton) made it 18-8, and then Thompson's third three-pointer of the half capped a 14-6 run to give Washington U. a 21-11 lead with 10:06 remaining. The Bears hit five of its first nine shots of the game from three-point range.

Guilford (25-6) never got the lead into double figures in the first half as Thompson continued to carry the load for the Bears. He banked in a three from the top of the key, and then drained a 15-footer with under two minutes remaining as Washington U. took a 39-26 lead to the locker room.

Thompson had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Bears shot 53.6 percent (15-28) from the field in the opening 20 minutes, and hit 6-of-11 from three-point range. Washington U. outrebounded Guilford, 20-12, and had a 7-0 advantage in second-chance points. WU's defense limited Guilford to 36.0 percent (9-25) shooting, and forced seven turnovers.

"I really feel that coming into these big games like you have to step back and be comfortable. I cannot say enough about what the team does for me to get me open and get me the ball," said Thompson, who tied the single-game Final Four record with his eight three-pointers. "We have to come out focused tomorrow and play our game."

Clay Henson got the Quakers back into the contest by scoring 12 of the team's first 15 points of the second half. Back-to-back three-pointers from Henson got the lead trimmed down to 46-39, and then two free-throws with 14:00 to play from Henson got the margin to five at 46-41. During Guilford's 13-5 run, Washington U. was limited to just 2-of-9 from the field.

After a timeout by Edwards, senior Sean Wallis, Northbrook, Ill. (Glenbrook North) scored on a reverse lay-up and then hit a three in transition to get the lead back to double figures at 51-41 with 11:06 remaining. Guilford called a 30-second timeout, but that could not stop Wallis.

He buried a three from the wing to push the lead to 54-41, and then after a miss by Guilford, he nailed a 25-footer to cap an 11-0 run by himself to make it 57-41 with 9:54 remaining. After a defensive stop, Thompson drained his sixth three-pointer of the game on an assist from Wallis to extend the run to 14-0 and push the lead to 60-41. Thompson and Wallis scored the Bears first 21 points of the second half.

Wallis also scored in double figures for the Bears as he finished with 15 points and five assists, breaking the all-time single-season assist record with 241. He also tied the all-time Washington University record with 556 in his four-year career. Senior Tyler Nading, Highlands Ranch, Colo. (Thunder Ridge) added nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Nading broke a tie with Matt Tabash (1999-03) for the all-time career steals record with 187.

"I take pride in doing a lot of different things to help our team win," said Wallis. "The first half I took care of the ball and got everyone else involved and that worked well. In the second half, my shot felt good and when u got it going like that you have to keep shooting."

The Bears shot 54.5 percent (30-55) from the field in the win, and hit a season-high 13 three-pointers. Washington U. also outrebounded the Quakers 32-23. Henson led Guilford with 23 points, while Tyler Sanborn added 11. The Quakers shot 41.9 percent (18-43) from the field and had 15 turnovers.

Washington U. has won 12-straight NCAA Tournament games and sport a 16-1 record over the past three seasons in post-season play. The Bears also improved to 9-1 against top-25 teams, and won its 39th of its last 40 games when leading at the half.