WALLA WALLA — Defense! Defense! Defense!
Jeff Reinland has been preaching it all season long with little success.
And Wednesday night in the Dietrich Dome it cost his Walla Walla men’s basketball team dearly as visiting Blue Mountain pinned the Warriors with a painful 89-80 defeat in a crucial NWAACC East Region game.
The loss ended all hope of Walla Walla returning to the NWAACC Championships on a night when the Warriors received some much-needed help in Yakima where the Yaks upended fourth-place Spokane, 91-86. Had the Warriors taken care of business against last-place Blue Mountain, they would have been within one game of the Sasquatch heading into Saturday night’s regular-season finale in the dome against third-place Columbia Basin.
As it now stands in a division that sends four teams to the season-ending tournament, Spokane (7-6, 17-10) is alone in fourth place, Yakima (6-7, 15-12) is alone in fifth place but still in contention and Walla Walla (5-8, 12-15) is in a tie for sixth place with Wenatchee (5-8, 11-15) and no longer in the hunt.
Spokane finishes up at Big Bend Saturday and Yakima visits Wenatchee. In the event the Sasquatch and Yaks wind up tied for fourth place, a playoff game will be required to determine the East’s final tourney ticket since they split their two regular-season games.
Reinland was realistic in the quiet moments after the loss to the Timberwolves, who won for only the second time in 13 division games and improved to 6-19 overall.
“I thought we played hard,” the Warriors coach said. “We just couldn’t get any stops on the defensive end. It seemed like every time we came down and hit a big 3 to get it back to four points, Blue Mountain would come right back at us and hit a 3.
“Give Blue Mountain credit. They wanted the game and they played hard. We played hard, too, but don’t take anything away from Blue because they wanted the game.”
The Timberwolves sank 34-of-72 shots from the floor. And while their .472 shooting percentage was nothing special, far too many of their baskets were uncontested by slow-reacting WWCC defenders.
“They would take the ball right past us to the basket,” Reinland said.
Blue Mountain also connected on 7-of-14 3-point attempts. Walla Walla, meanwhile, was 11-of-33 from beyond the arc and 28-for-67 overall, 42 percent.
Blue Mountain also commanded the backboards 44-35 as Dylan Martin, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Temecula, Calif., crashed the glass for 16 rebounds. Sophomore Joe Underdahl, a 6-2 guard, led Walla Walla rebounders with 10.
The game was tied three times in the first three minutes of play. But a 3-pointer by Chris Randall and a hard drive to the basket by Darius Butler put Blue Mountain on top 11-6 with 15:46 on the clock and the Timberwolves led the rest of the way.
The Warriors trailed 41-35 at halftime and by as many as 13 points, 62-49, with 10:01 remaining in the game.
Three-point baskets by Caleb Bravard and Underdahl, sandwiched around a pair of Nate Richards free throws, drew the Warriors with six points, 62-56, with 8:12 on the clock. But Mark Mueller answered with a baseline drive, Leroy Abraham III sank 1-of-2 free throws and Randall stroked another 3-pointer as Blue Mountain built its lead back to 10 points, 68-58, with 6:31 to play.
The Warriors’ Dallas Reich made a pair of free throws and drilled a 3-pointer as the Warriors clawed to within 70-66 at the 4:53 mark. Mueller answered with a trey of his own, and after another Reich field goal, the Timberwolves’ Butler scored twice from close range and Brandon Davis added a rebound bucket and Blue Mountain was once again up by 10, 79-69, with time beginning to run out on Walla Walla.
However, five consecutive points by Underdahl made it 82-76 with two minutes to play and gave the Warriors a flicker of hope. But another hard drive to the basket by Butler and four consecutive Davis free throws put the Timberwolves up 88-76 inside of a minute to play and the outcome was settled.
Butler led the Timberwolves with 23 points, Martin and Randall scored 19 points each and Mueller and Davis contributed 10 points apiece. Reich and Underdahl scored 20 points each for the Warriors, Bravard finished with 15 and Richards was in double figures with 10 points.
It remains to be seen what the Warriors have left as they close out the season against Columbia Basin Saturday.
“We want to send our sophomores off on a good note,” Reinland said, promising an all-out effort from his team. “As long as I am the coach at Walla Walla Community College, we will come out and play hard every game.
“We are going to go to practice Thursday and Friday and prepare as if we were the No. 1 team in the NWAACC. But this year it’s not our turn to go to the tournament.”
Blue Mountain 89, Walla Walla 80
BLUE MOUNTAIN (89) — Butler 10-18 3-3 23, Martin 8-17 1-4 19, McElroy 0-3 0-0 0, Abraham III 0-3 1-2 1, Randall 6-12 3-4 19, Mueller 5-7 0-0 10, Davis 3-8 4-4 10, Kiser 0-0 0-0 0, Wells 1-3 2-2 4, Miller 1-1 0-1 3. Totals 34-72 14-20 89.
WALLA WALLA (80) — Schetzle 2-2 3-6 8, Bravard 4-13 3-4 15, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Underdahl 9-13 1-1 20, Sawyer 0-3 0-1 0, Reich 7-13 2-2 20, Lacey 1-8 0-0 3, Grooms 0-2 0-0 0, Richards 3-8 2-2 10, Nooner 1-5 2-2 4. Totals 28-67 13-18 80.
Halftime — Blue Mountain 41, WWCC 35. 3-point goals — Blue Mountain 7-14 (Martin 2-2, McElroy 0-1, Mueller 0-1, Randall 4-9, Miller 1-1), WWCC 11-33 (Schetzle 1-1, Bravard 2-7, Underdahl 1-2, Sawyer 0-2, Reich 4-7, Lacey 1-8, Grooms 0-1, Richard 2-5). Total fouls — WWCC 16, Blue Mountain 14. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Rebounds — Blue Mountain 44 (Martin 16), WWCC 35 (Underdahl 10). Turnovers — Blue Mountain 9, WWCC 8. Assists — Blue Mountain 10 (Davis 4), WWCC 9 (Schetzle 3).