PENDLETON — Walla Walla bounced back from its first men’s basketball defeat in nine games with a vengeance here Wednesday night.
The Warrior scrubbed from their memories Monday’s 100-69 thrashing in the Dietrich Dome at the hands of first-place North Idaho by overwhelming last-place Blue Mountain 91-50 in the Northwest Athletic Conference East Region game on the Timberwolves’ home floor.
“We played much better,” WWCC coach Jeff Reinland said after watching his team hike its league record to 11-3 and nail down the East’s No. 2 seed heading into the NWAC Championships that begin March 7 in Everett. Of course, we were playing a different team,” Reinland added. “We were not facing a team as intimidating as North Idaho, and I thought we came out with good focus and played well, especially on defense holding those guys to 50 points.”
North Idaho, which clinched the regional championship with Monday’s victory over the Warriors, belted Spokane 96-67 Wednesday to improve to 14-0 in the region and 25-2 overall. The Cardinals will take the No. 1 seed into next month’s season-ending tournament.
Walla Walla, 17-10 overall, leads third-place Spokane (9-5, 18-9) by two games with two games to play.
But the Warriors hold the tiebreaker over the Sasquatch, thus they are assured of the second seed.
But Reinland, who has guided his team to 11 wins in its last 13 games, doesn’t want his players to hold anything back in their final two regular-season games.
They entertain Columbia Basin (2-10, 5-19) Saturday afternoon and finish up at home against Big Bend (7-7, 17-8) next Wednesday.
“I don’t want us to back into the tournament,” the coach said. “We have been preaching that since the day we qualified. We’re trying to keep the momentum going. You want to be winning, not losing, going into the tournament. So we are going to be treating these last two games as any other games we play, wanting to win no more or no less than any other games.”
The Warriors treated the lowly Timberwolves (2-11, 4-20) with due respect here Wednesday as they raced to a 49-27 halftime lead and never let them back in the game.
Blue Mountain shot just 35 percent from the field and was outrebounded 40-31.
Forrest Smith and David Howard led WWCC’s offense with 21 points apiece.
Damen Thacker scored 18 and Jake Albright, the Warriors’ sophomore post, bounced back from a forgettable game against North Idaho with 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
“I thought Jake played a lot better,” Reinland said of Albright, who scored just four points against North Idaho and spent large chunks of the game on the bench in foul trouble. “He played with more passion, and I was pretty pleased.”
Smith tallied his 21 points on 9-for-19 shooting from the field overall while Howard made all 21 of his points on 7-for-10 shooting from 3-point distance.
The Warriors shot 49 percent from the field overall and 39 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Timberwolves got a game-high 26 points from Mekhi Foreman.
Dylan Grogan was the Timberwolves’ only other double-figure scorer with 12 points, and he also led his team with 10 rebounds.
“I am pleased and very proud of the kids for where we are at,” Reinland said. “We were in a lull when we lost Jake for awhile and lost six-out-of-seven games. Everybody was kind of down and we were wondering if we were really good enough. Then we started clicking and went on a winning streak before North Idaho burst our bubble. Now we have these final two games at the end of the year and the guys know they’ll have to come in and go to work today at 4 o’clock.”