It required an attitude adjustment at halftime, but Walla Walla pulled out an 80-78 victory over Big Bend Wednesday night in the Dietrich Dome.
The Warriors wiped out a 37-27 halftime deficit and rode Forrest Smith’s clutch 3-point shot with two seconds on the clock to claim the narrow two-point victory in the Northwest Athletic Conference East Region men’s basketball regular-season finale for both teams.
Walla Walla, which was already assured of second place in the final East Region standings, improved to 13-3 in league games and 19-10 overall.
“It was kind of a meaningless game because we were going to get second place no matter what,” WWCC coach Jeff Reinland said. “And I don’t think we were ready to go. Our attitude wasn’t that good and we had to go in at halftime and get things adjusted. And there was quite a contrast, 27 points in the first half and 53 in the second. We had to get our guys to understand — which we tried to do all week — that any time you take the floor you have to give your best effort, and we didn’t do that in the first half.”
The game was anything but meaningless for the Vikings, who came into the game with the chance to clinch fourth place in the region but now face the prospect of being shut out of the NWAC Championships that begin next weekend in Everett.
Big Bend is 8-8 in the region and 18-9 overall and currently in fourth place, three games behind third-place Spokane.
But Wenatchee and Treasure Valley are both 7-8 in the East with one game remaining. Treasure Valley hosts Columbia Basin tonight and Wenatchee entertains Blue Mountain Friday in a pair of makeup games.
A Wenatchee win will give the Knights fourth place since they swept both Big Bend and Treasure Valley. However, a Wenatchee loss and a Treasure Valley victory would leave the Chukars and Vikings tied for fourth place and would necessitate a playoff game Sunday to determine the East’s fourth and final tournament berth.
Damen Thacker scored 18 points and led five Warriors in double figures Wednesday. Smith and Jake Albright tallied 16 points each, David Howard scored 12 and Kyler Villarreal finished with 10.
“Forrest Smith and David Howard got us going in the second half,” Reinland said. “Forrest scored all 16 of his points in the second half and David got all 12 of his after halftime. Damen (Thacker) and Jake (Albright) kept us going in the first half. And they were pretty physical with Jake. He got bumped around a lot and he earned every point he got.”
Koby Huerta led the Vikings with 21 points and scored back-to-back baskets in the final minute to turn a 77-74 WWCC lead into a 78-77 Vikings advantage.
After a Warriors timeout, WWCC designed a play for Thacker driving to the basket. He missed, rebounded and missed again, but he managed to rebound again and passed the ball to Smith behind the 3-point arc and Smith’s final shot was on the mark.
“It wasn’t our best game, but I think Big Bend would say the same thing,” Reinland said. “They controlled the first half and we controlled the second. But it was kind of a sloppy game, kind of a quiet game with not much atmosphere.”
Photo by Greg Lehman of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin