Warrior face NWAACC's ‘hottest team'

The WWCC women enjoy a best-ever 24-1 record headed into the tournament, but play an uptempo Umpqua squad in the first round Saturday.

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WWCC women's basketball head coach Bobbi Hazeltine smiles as she watches the seconds tick off the clock until the buzzer sounds on a NWAACC victory earlier this season.

WALLA WALLA - Bobbi Hazeltine should have seen this coming.

Considering all the adversity she's confronted in her 11 years in charge of the women's basketball program at Walla Walla Community College, she should have anticipated that this dream season couldn't last.

Perhaps she did. And it didn't.

After breezing to a best-ever 24-1 record and a share of the Eastern Division championship, Hazeltine's Warriors enter this weekend's NWAACC Championships at the Toyota Center in Kennewick against an Umpqua team that Hazeltine describes as "the hottest team in the NWAACC."

"It's just brutal the way it worked out," Hazeltine said.

The way it worked out, the Warriors received the East's No. 2 seed because of a preseason tiebreaker formula that favored Yakima, the team that finished tied with WWCC atop the East standings. The Yaks and the Warriors split their regular-season home-and-home series, each team winning on its home court, and went on to log identical 13-1 division marks.

At the same time, Umpqua had a shot at the NWAACC's Southern Division title going into the final weekend of play and wound up with the No. 3 seed. The Timberwomen enter Saturday's tournament opener with a 20-6 record.

"Their top three teams were tied, so they virtually have three No. 1s," Hazeltine assessed of the Southern Division. "Those top three teams in the South are all loaded. And according to the coaches I have talked to, Umpqua is the hottest team in the NWAACC."

Yakima, by virtue of its No. 1 seed, takes on the South's No. 4 seed, Mount Hood, which is 18-8 going into Saturday.

"The difference between the first and second seeds is enormous," Hazeltine said. "In the opening round and throughout. Our route to a championship is very difficult."

What concerns Hazeltine the most about the Timberwomen is their up-tempo style of play. It's a complete contrast, she said, to WWCC's more deliberate half-court game.

"They press all over the place, and that's what scares me the most," she said. "They will press for 40 minutes, and their guards are lightning quick. It's not an ideal matchup for us."

The hardest part, Hazeltine said, is preparation.

"We can't simulate their pressure in practice because we don't have kids who can do that. No matter what we do in practice, it won't be like what we will see Saturday morning."

That's another difficulty the Warriors must deal with. Their first-round game is scheduled for an 8 a.m. start.

"It's the same situation we were in last year," Hazeltine said. "We'll practice one morning at 8 just to get acclimated, and I trust we will be ready. Spokane has the 10 p.m. game, and I'd rather have our slot than theirs."

The Warriors will be led by sophomore guard Kati Isahm, who was just named the Eastern Division's player of the year for a second straight year. The versatile 5-foot-8 Idaho product averaged 22.1 points per game during the regular season, shot 49 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point distance and 83 percent from the free-throw line.

"She beat out some awfully good Yakima girls who are probably going Pac-10," Hazeltine said of Boise State-bound Isham. "She has the respect of everyone in our league."

Sophomore post Nancy Johnson was also named to the all-East first team. Johnson averaged 14.7 points per game and a team-best 7.6 rebounds.

Layne Tucker, who sat out all of last season with an injury, scored at a 9.2 clip and averaged 2.5 assists during her sophomore campaign. And sophomore Kayla Hutcheson averaged six points and 4 1/2 rebounds per game.

The fifth starter, Shelby Isham, averaged three points a game while running the Warriors' offense from the point guard position. However, she has been sidelined from practice this week with strep throat, Hazeltine said.

"That's another problem," the coach said. "She's our main ball handler."

Sophomore Jaimie Berghammer, a 6-footer who averages four points and four rebounds off the bench, could also figure heavily into Hazeltine's plans Saturday.

"Umpqua also has a really good post player, and Jaimie could be the stopper there," Hazeltine said. "She will play a lot."

Morgan Wolff, Chiann Dreadfulwater, Cierra Silverthorn and Morgan VanderEsch are other bench players who could see valuable minutes against the hurry-up Timberwomen.

"Depth has been an advantage for us all year," Hazeltine said. "And Umpqua is going to make us tired because they go, go, go. Our kids are going to need some breaks, and we have the experience that could help."

Because of the early tip Saturday, the Warriors will spend Friday night in the Tri-Cities. And in the event the Warriors lose Saturday, they'll be back on the court for an 8 a.m. loser-out game Sunday.

Knowing that, Hazeltine has made motel reservations for her players for Saturday night as well.

"If we win Saturday, we don't play Sunday until 2 p.m," she said. "If that's the case, we can go home after Saturday's game and cancel those reservations.

"That's one phone call I want to make."

NWAACC Championships

At Toyota Center

Kennewick

Saturday's Games

• Umpqua (20-6) vs. Walla Walla (24-1), 8 a.m.

• Everett (16-9) vs. Lower Columbia (18-8), 10 a.m.

• Clark (14-9) vs. Bellevue (19-7), noon

• Centralia (23-3) vs. Edmonds (11-13), 2 p.m.

• Yakima Valley (21-5) vs. Mount Hood (18-8), 4 p.m.

• Clackamas (21-4) vs. Columbia Basin (16-9), 6 p.m.

• Skagit Valley (21-4) vs. Highline (13-12), 8 p.m.

• Spokane (16-9) vs. Lane (22-8), 10 p.m.

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