EVERETT, Wash. — Walla Walla vs. Umpqua.
It was the showdown everyone had anticipated for weeks.
Two once-beaten teams, two completely different styles of play squaring off for the Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball championship.
It came to pass here late Sunday afternoon at Everett Community College.
But it didn’t play out the way many might have anticipated.
And the moral of the story is: Speed kills.
Led by sophomores Cierra Jo McKeown and Jade Skidmore, the Warriors rode their up-tempo style of play to a convincing 90-74 victory over the much taller and more physical Riverhawks for their third NWAC title in school history. And it wasn’t really as close as the final score might suggest.
McKeown, the Touchet terror, drilled 9-of-12 3-point shots, scored 32 points and was named the tournament’s most valuable player one night after racking up a near-record 45 points in WWCC’s 92-64 semifinal romp over East Region rival Big Bend.
Skidmore, the Warriors ultra-efficient point guard from Terreton, Idaho, capped her WWCC career by draining 12-of-19 shots from the floor for 24 points while dishing out eight assists and snagging five rebounds. And she joined McKeown on the all-tournament first team.
Freshman post Taylor Turner scored 13 points, led the Warriors with eight rebounds and did yeoman work on the defensive end as she banged up against Umpqua’s burly 6-foot-3 sophomore post Dajanay Powell, who led the Riverhawks with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
Turner was named the tournament’s most inspirational player.
Sophomores Teresa Acock and Adrianna Peralez were two other key contributors as they closed out their Warriors careers.
Acock, named to the all-tournament second team, finished with nine points and a pair of assists and Peralez accrued eight points and eight rebounds.
WWCC’s fifth sophomore, Kortney Hutchison, scored two points, picked up one rebound, handed out one assist and made one steal in a reserve role.
“Those five sophomores are going to be hard to replace,” said veteran WWCC coach Bobbi Hazeltine, the architect of all three of the Warriors’ NWAC championships.
The Warriors also won in 2001 in Hazeltine’s second year on the job and again in 2010.
“I don’t want to even think about it today or tomorrow,” Hazeltine said of the recruiting task in front of her. “It’s going to be a big job and I will think about it next week.”
The Warriors and Riverhawks entered the game with identical 31-1 records and there were few who believed this game wouldn’t go down to the wire, Hazeltine included.
The Walla Wallans broke on top 28-21 after one quarter, but Umpqua rallied to tie the game at 35-35 late in the second quarter.
The Warriors responded with a 9-0 run and took a 46-39 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Then, in a decisive third period, the Warriors outscored the Riverhawks 27-15 to forge a 73-54 lead that the Riverhawks would never challenge over the game’s final 10 minutes.
And even though the Warriors put 90 points on the scoreboard, it was defense that made the difference against an Umpqua team that started 6-4 Jordan Stotler, 6-0 Bria Thames and 5-11 Taylor Stricklin in addition to the 6-3 Powell and brought 6-2 Merrily Jones and 6-1 Lily Eckert off the bench.
“You look at that lineup and our tallest starter was 5-9,” Hazeltine said. “I just thought it was a tall task, literally. Their 6-3 girl (Powell) had just set the tournament record with 47 points the night before and she was surrounded by four really good scorers.”
Stotler scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-5 3-pointers. Thames tallied nine points and finished with eight assists and six rebounds. Stricklin scored eight points to go with five assists and three boards.
Hazeltine and her assistant coaches determined that the best way to defend the Riverhawks was to double-team Powell at all times and triple-team her when she received the ball.
“Normally we don’t zone ever,” Hazeltine said. “But we put in a 2-3 zone and covered (Powell) with two people the whole time, and we took our chances on certain other kids. And when (Powell) got the ball we tripled.
“Our girl in the middle was mostly Taylor (Turner), and when she got tired we subbed in Kalleigh Dietrich-Denton. It depended on where the ball was, but every single player was part of doubling her at certain points, and they all knew when it was their time to double.
“We knew she would get her points,” Hazeltine said. “We just didn’t want her to get 47.”
The Warriors finished the season on a 30-game winning streak and raced through the NWAC Championships. They rolled over Highline 78-37 in the first round and defeated Lane 85-62 in the quarterfinals before taking down Big Bend and Umpqua over the weekend.
“I know the road might have looked easy but I don’t think it was,” Hazeltine said. “It felt to me like we were challenged every single game.”
Warriors 90, Riverhawks 74
WALLA WALLA (90) — McKeown 11-17 1-2 32, Acock 4-14 0-0 9, Skidmore 12-19 0-0 24, Turner 6-12 1-2 13, Peralez 3-7 2-5 8, Andrews 0-0 0-0 0, Lyon 0-0 0-0 0, Hutchison 1-2 0-0 2, Gunter 0-0 0-0 0, Bowen 0-0 0-0 0, Dietrich-Denton 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 38-73 4-11 90.
UMPQUA (74) — Stotler 6-11 0-0 16, Sticklin 3-9 0-0 8, Thames 2-4 0-0 6, Grenfell 2-4 0-0 6, Powell 13-20 1-5 27, Parnell 0-3 0-0 0, Frieze 1-3 0-2 3, Eckert 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 2-6 0-0 5. Totlas 30-67 4-11 74.
3-point goals — WWCC 10-23 (McKeown 9-12, Acock 1-9); Umpqua 10-31 (Stotler 4-5, Stricklin 2-8, Thames 0-5, Grenfell 2-3, Parnell 0-3, Frieze 1-3, Jones 0-4). Total fouls — Umpqua 13, WWCC 12. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Rebounds — Umpqua 39 (Powell 13), WWCC 34 (Turner 8, Peralza 8). Turnovers — Umpqua 14, WWCC 4. Assists — Umpqua 23 (Thames 8), WWCC 19 (Skidmore 8).