The 6-foot-10 sophomore center always believed that Wheeler, despite its youth, had the talent that could bring the Wildcats their sixth state championship and first since 2009.
Giddens got what he was looking for Saturday after Wheeler routed Meadowcreek 96-52 in the second round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
With a frontcourt featuring Giddens, 6-7 Elijah Staley and 6-6 Jaylen Brown, Wheeler (20-8) had a decisive height advantage right from the tip and used it to its benefit.
“We thought we needed to take advantage of our height,” Wheeler coach Doug Lipscomb said, “and Daniel, Elijah and J.B. — they all played well. I have to take my hat off to Meadowcreek. They have been competitive all year long, and I’m just proud of the effort our kids played.”
Wheeler advanced into the quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons and will host Peachtree Ridge on Wednesday.
The Wildcats’ zone defense forced Meadowcreek (11-18) into long-range shots early, and when those attempts missed the mark, Wheeler capitalized on the rebounds and made baskets at the other end.
“I think we can be most effective when we stay out of foul trouble,” Lipscomb added. “That’s one of the reasons why we change and use multiple defenses. That’s what we have to continue to do.”
The result was a 15-0 game-opening run that led to a 17-3 first-quarter lead. A quick start to the second period, behind back-to-back layups from Austin Smoak, and Staley and a dunk from Brown, put Wheeler ahead 25-3 with 6:20 remaining until halftime.
The Region 5AAAAAA champion Wildcats outscored Meadowcreek, the No. 3 seed from Region 7AAAAAA, 30-14 in the second quarter, en route to a 47-17 halftime lead.
Wheeler continued to build on that lead the rest of the contest.
Brown scored all 11 of his points in the first half, while Staley totaled 10 of his 18 points during that span. Jerron Love came off the bench to post eight of 19 in the first half as well.
Eight Wheeler players scored during the first half, compared to only four for Meadowcreek.
“This was overdue,” said Giddens, who finished with seven points and a game-high 15 rebounds. “We should have been doing this earlier in the year. It’s not coming from a cocky place, but I think we’re finally focused. We finally got on track. We’ve been listening more in practice. There hasn’t been a lot of drama, and we’re just really focused, and that’s been the cause of our success.
“It’s been a work in progress. The time around the region championship game and winning our region, we said, ‘It’s time for business, now.’ We just have to focus. It’s really a blessing that we’re all getting on the same page because we’re trying to win (title) No. 6 for Wheeler.”
Wheeler held a 66-34 lead with 1:40 left in the third quarter, but closed out the period on a 10-2 run. Love, who had nine third-quarter points, sank two free throws and a layup to begin the spurt. Staley, who had eight points in the third and finished the game with 10 boards, followed with a layup and a dunk, and Trevin Steede closed out the run with a dunk that put the Wildcats in front 76-34 with 10 seconds left.
The Wildcats slowly began to empty their bench in the fourth, and they held their biggest lead of the game — 45 points — on two occasions.
Eight players scored six or more points for Wheeler.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Lipscomb said. “They played hard, and that’s all I can say. Meadowcreek was a pretty good team, and they had to be to be in the state playoffs. I just want us to continue to make progress and improve every game.
Austin Robinson led Meadowcreek with 18 points, including four 3-pointers. Don Smith had three 3-pointers and scored 11, while Anthony Jenkins chipped in nine.