WALLA WALLA — Trying to convince his players at halftime that they still had another 20 minutes to play was probably the most difficult task Walla Walla coach Jeff Reinland faced here Friday night during the quarterfinals of the men’s Northwest Athletic Conference Championships.
The Warriors shot lights out during the game’s first 20 minutes, at one point led Whatcom by 40 points, 53-13, and took a 38-point lead, 66-28, into the locker room at halftime.
“I looked around and the guys were all comatose,” Reinland said of the halftime interlude. “We tried to caution them that they still had another half to play, and they’re all looking like, ‘Yeah, coach, we know.’
“I don’t think I’ve ever coached a game in my career where we have a good first half and come out and have a good second half.”
Sure enough, the Orcas scored the first 11 points of the second half and at one point chiseled Walla Walla’s lead to 13 points, 84-71, with about six minutes to play.
“We made some bad decisions in the second half,” Reinland said. “They were playing an extended 1-2-2 zone and we shot the ball too quickly and forced some drives. They definitely got us frustrated.
“But the middle of the court was wide open and Caulin (Bakalarski) finally hit a couple of mid-range jumpers and sent the message that they were not going to win this game.”
Bakalarski’s baskets enabled the Warriors to push their lead back to 25 points and they went on to defeat the Orcas 100-80 and advance the NWAC finals for the first time since 2012. Walla Walla will face Lower Columbia here Saturday with a chance to reach the title game for the first time in Reinland’s 24-year tenure as the Warriors head coach.
“This is our fifth trip to the semifinals, but never the finals,” Reinland said. “It’s so hard to predict because we are all so even. We’re all different, but we’re all even.”
Lower Columbia advanced to the final four later Friday with an 85-78 victory over Mount Hood. In the upper bracket, Tacoma ousted Peninsula 75-64 and Umpqua topped South Puget Sound 66-53, setting up a clash between the Timbermen and the Clippers in Saturday’s other semifinal.
The championship game will be played here one week from today.
The Warriors fired away at a 53-percent clip from the field and drained 12-of-23 3-point shots, 52 percent, in the first half. Sophomore forward Dalton Thompson led the way by sinking five 3-point shots and scoring all 22 of his team-high points before the halftime horn sounded.
Bakalarski finished the night with 21 points, Gabe Porter tallied 16 and Brandon Porter came off the bench to score 16 points.
But all five of WWCC’s starters managed to get into foul trouble in the first half and Reinland spent much of the game shuffling his players in and out of the lineup in order to protect them.
“At one point in the first half I had all five of my starters on the bench with two fouls,” the coach recollected. “Gabe (Porter) and Beau (Tilleman) both picked up their third foul early in the second half. And I left Beau in there and he right away got his fourth.
The game was also disjointed, Reinland said, twice delayed when officials took too long to sort out flagrant foul issues and once when the 30-second shot clock malfunctioned.
“It was a weird game,” he said. “There were way too many fouls called, and the delays just killed our momentum. It felt like we were out there forever.
“But we hung on and that is the main thing.”
Landon Radliff, who scored a team-high 22 points and hit the game-winning basket in the Warriors’ 69-67 opening-round victory over Pierce, was limited to seven points Friday. But he contributed 10 rebounds and dished out 12 assists in the game
Tilleman finished with 11 boards as WWCC won the rebounding battle 53-45.
Leaf Anderson knocked down 7-of-12 3-point shots and scored a game-high 29 points to lead the Orcas. Dalton Lootens had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Kalien Hayes was in double figures with 10 points.
Whatcom finished its season with an 18-10 record. Walla Walla will take a 22-8 mark into the championship semifinals.