COLLEGE PLACE - The Walla Walla University women's basketball team is hosting its annual Hoops Classic this week.
The Classic features three matches between WWU, Salish Kootenai and Northwest Indian College.
NWIC is a familiar foe for the Wolves; this will be the fourth match between the schools this season. Walla Walla opened its season with a 72-60 loss to the Eagles, but has since dominated, defeating the Eagles 114-40 Jan. 14 and 99-34 Jan. 15.
Wolves coach Mike Patterson, in his first full season since taking over mid-way through last season, said the Wolves would not underestimate the Eagles - previous lopsided results notwithstanding.
"Any time we step on the court, I don't want them (WWU) to take it for granted," Patterson said. "We try to be mentally and physically prepared for every situation possible. I try to prepare for the worst situation, so no we are not taking NWIC lightly."
Salish Kootenai College (Pablo, Mont.) is a relative unknown, Patterson said.
"I haven't seen them (Salish Kootenai) play either," Patterson said. "Looking at their roster, they've got girls all the way from 5-foot-7 to 6-5, so it looks like they've got some height. We'll have to see how much athleticism they have."
The WWU Hoops Classic was previously a tournament format, however Johnson and Wales (Colo.), last year's tournament champion, held its own classic this season and WWU was unable to find a replacement.
Instead, the Classic champion will be determined by which team has the best record at the end of the series. In the case of a tie, the winner will be determined by a point differential.
The Wolves, NAIA Division II independents, have struggled this season en route to a 3-18 record. To start the season the Wolves were missing several newcomers due to delays in NAIA eligibility paperwork issues and have faced a tough schedule, including NCAA Division I Utah Valley Jan. 17 (a 104-46 loss). But, as evidenced by recent victories over NWIC, the Wolves are improving.
"... We have played extremely difficult competition," Patterson said. "I can promise you we have one of the tougher NAIA Division II schedules around. There's not too many schools that go from NAIA Division II all the way to NCAA DI programs. I tip my hat to the girls for all the hard work at practices and on and off the court.
"It's kind of been a two part season for us," he continued. "The first part (of the season) we were having NAIA problems, and we didn't have everyone together as a team. These guys have been having a lot of success and I'm very happy with our progress. This is really the first season that they've got to play together and we're going against teams that are very mature and are used to playing with each other. We're basically trying to put together that nucleus and come together as a group."
Saturday's match between WWU and Salish will be the final home game of the season for the Wolves and Senior Night for the team's lone senior, Tina Rhuman, and two sophomores transferring to the University's nursing program in Portland, Sarah Fitch and Kate Taggart.
As part of the Senior night festivities, the Wolves will be giving away prizes, including a big screen television.
The Wolves are also celebrating breast cancer awareness for the weekend's events. Admission for the weekend will be free for those wearing pink.
The Classic tips off tonight when the Wolves take on NWIC at 8 p.m. Salish Kootenai and NWIC face off Friday at 2 p.m. and WWU faces SKC Saturday at 8 p.m.