Walla Walla sent a clear message to the rest of the Northwest Athletic Conference Wednesday night in the Dietrich Dome.
As long as the 3-pointers keep finding the bottom of the net, the Warriors can stand toe-to-toe with the best the NWAC has to offer.
The Warriors shot 47 percent (19-for-40) from downtown Wednesday night to overcome North Idaho’s 56-35 rebounding advantage and defeated the No. 1-ranked Cardinals 98-95 in a battle to decide first place in the East Region standings.
Walla Walla improved to 4-1 in league play and 13-4 overall. The Cardinals, who joined the NWAC this season after decades as a National Junior College Athletic Association member, are now 3-1 in the league and 15-2 overall.
“No question this is a very big win for us,” veteran WWCC coach Jeff Reinland said. “In all my years here I can’t remember playing the No. 1 team in the NWAC in the dome. We’ve played Big Bend a couple of times when they were No. 2, but never a No. 1.
“North Idaho was a great team and they are still a great team. It took everything we had to stay with them.”
Sophomore shooting guard Gabe Porter led the Warriors with 32 points, sophomore wing Dalton Thompson scored 26 and freshman point guard Caulin Bakalarski 16. Between them, they were 24-for-51 (47 percent) from the field overall and 18-for-35 (51 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.
“The thing is, we have so many guys who can shoot it,” Reinland said of his team’s assault from downtown. “Even guys off the bench. Brandon Porter came in and hit a huge 3 from the corner late in the game, and Gabe, Caulin and Dalton are all pretty steady. It’s not like we are relying on just a couple of guys and that makes it a little better.”
Sam Dowd, the Cardinals’ point guard, put up 29 shots, made 12 of them and led all scorers with 33 points. Zaequan Satterthwaite, Markus Golder and Jalen Burkett did most of their damage in the paint and scored 18, 17 and 12 points, respectively.
“Dowd is a great point guard but I’ve never seen him play that aggressively on offense,” Reinland said. “That’s something we are going to have to think about a little bit the next time we play them.
“We have a tough time stopping people going to the basket,” he added. “And they wanted to pound the ball inside on us. They didn’t look much for the perimeter shot.”
The Cardinals needed a 3-pointer, however, after Thompson knocked down a pair of free throws with 10 seconds on the second-half clock for a three-point lead. Nick Bevans, North Idaho’s top 3-point shooter, got a good look at the buzzer but his shot rimmed out.
“We did a good job on Bevans,” Reinland said. “He usually makes five or six 3-pointers a game, but we held him to just two and six points on the night. We do a pretty good job defending the perimeter.”
Reinland also noted that Thompson, a 6-foot-6 wing, proved to be a tough matchup for the Cardinals.
“We moved him to the four and that is usually against one of the other team’s bigger guys,” Reinland said. “But Dalton can bomb from the NBA 3-point line and those big guys don’t like that.”
Neither team was ever able to mount a double-digit lead.
“They were up by seven early, we were up by five late, but that was it,” Reinland said. “It’s been a pretty tight season, and this game was no exception.”
Reinland anticipates another tough go Saturday when the Warriors travel to Pendleton to take on a Blue Mountain team that was idle Wednesday. The Timberwolves are 2-3 in league and 4-11 overall.
“It’s a good feeling to be in first place, but there’s such a long way to go,” Reinland said. “We still have to go to Big Bend, to North Idaho and to Treasure Valley in the second half, so we have to take it one day at a time, one game at a time.
“I have a lot of respect for Blue Mountain. They are not a bad team and they have a great post player. It’s going to be a test and we have to be ready for them.”
Photo by Greg Lehman of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin