WLLA WALLA — Wa-Hi, girls face their biggest challenge of the year tonight when Gonzaga Prep invades the Blue Devil gym.
Wa-Hi, fresh off a 49-46 loss to Mid-Columbia Conference arch-nemesis Chiawana in the district tournament title game, now faces likely its toughest test of the year in the Bullpups tonight at 5:30.
The Bullpups, ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll, bring a fast-paced, run-and-gun offense run by point guard Laura Stockton, daughter of legendary Gonzaga alum and Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton.
“They want to get up and down,” Wa-Hi coach Jill Meliah said. “They score a lot in transition. Their guards are quick, we’ll have to send someone back and make sure we don’t try and play into their up-tempo craziness, try and take care of the ball and run our sets.”
Gonzaga Prep is 19-3 on the season, with all three losses coming to top-ranked Greater Spokane League-foe Mead.
But the Blue Devils, who start four sophomores and a senior, aren’t intimidated by their big-name opponents.
“I think this group — they just love to play basketball,” Meliah said. “They don’t look at pressure situations, or who they’re playing. They’re pretty determined right now, they don’t want to be done playing.”
With the game in Walla Walla thanks to the rotating MCC-GSL regionals, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils are hoping for a big home crowd to help provide a home-court advantage.
“We’d really like to see a huge crowd out to support us, too,” Meliah said. “When you get a big crowd out, that can help a team to be motivated.”
Wa-Hi has seen an offense similar to Gonzaga Prep’s this season, Meliah said, in MCC opponent Kamiakin, with whom the Blue Devils split this season.
“I think it will be similar to the Kamiakin game, where if we can handle the pressure and take care of the ball, we should be able to take advantage of our size,” Meliah said.
Wa-Hi began the season with the goal of running an up-tempo offense similar to the Bullpups’ as well as a full-court press, but with only eight players seeing the vast majority of time for the Blue Devils, that plan had to be scrapped.
But expect the Blue Devils to play a more aggressive full-court defense tonight in an effort to slow the Bullpups down and force them into running half-court sets, where Meliah thinks Wa-Hi will have a height advantage.
“They like to leak out and try to fast break,” Meliah said. “If they’re going try to leak out we need to take advantage and try and crash the (offensive) boards while having somebody drop back.”
On offense, Wa-Hi will stick with the halfcourt and try to use its size to create mis-matches.
Point guard Mikayla Ferenz, Madi Doepker and Torri Crawford have been Wa-Hi’s go-to scorers this season, but the Blue Devils will be looking for balance against the Bullpups.
“I think, honestly, to be successful we have to be able to share the ball,” Meliah said. “If Maddy Sirmon or Kate Ferenz are playing on the wing and there’s a 5-foot-5 girl guarding them, we have to take advantage of that.”
If Wa-Hi downs the Bullpups tonight, they will play Saturday for the tournament’s second seed to state against either Mead or Chiawana.