It was a crowning achievement emblematic of Columbia Basin’s entire tournament romp, the final link in a chain of blowouts-by-committee, the last in a succession of ensemble performances where the stars changed nightly but the bottom line didn’t budge.
“You never knew who would step up,” said Hawks head coach Cheryl Holden. “You just knew that somebody would.”
Columbia Basin joined Skagit Valley, Chemeketa and Lane as the only programs to win four women’s basketball championships by handling Umpqua 86-74 in the NWAACC title game Tuesday at Toyota Center.
And although the Hawks’ Courtney Nelson stole the show — and snatched the tournament MVP award — the win, and the three preceding it, will resonate for the depth and defense that enabled them.
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“I will always remember the way we came together as a team,” said Nelson, who had 29 points, seven rebounds and three assists. “It honestly takes a lot of pressure off of each individual player when you have a team this deep.”
Alicia Jones added 16 points for CBC (27-4), making all four of her field goal attempts and 8 of 9 free throws, and Lyndsay Oswalt added 12 points. Oswalt and teammate Shannon Bland were named first-team all-tournament.
Every player on the CBC roster saw minutes in the championship game, and unlike many valedictory performances in which coaches grant token appearances in the final seconds, almost every minute mattered. Supplementary efforts by Kellie Ross (nine points, two steals), Kelsey Yenney (eight points, six rebounds, three assists) and Sydney Mercer (10 rebounds, two blocked shots) pointed back to, well, depth.
Holden called it “so special,” the trait that will distinguish it from CBC championship squads in 2012, 2008 and 2005.
“Every night,” she said, “there was someone different.”
In various combinations, CBC stacked four victories in four days by margins of 42, 17, 22 and 12. It held an Umpqua team averaging a tourney-best 84.6 points per game to 36 percent field goal shooting.
“Our defense won that game,” Nelson said. “We’re high-intensity, we’re fast ... We just do it for each other.”
The Hawks built a 42-24 halftime lead. It dipped to eight points several times midway through the second, but Jones had 13 points down the stretch as CBC pulled away.
The first half’s early moments contained the illusion of a close, low-scoring game, with neither team able to establish much traction in its respective half-court offense. As the midpoint of the half neared, the game was tied 13-all — well off the 80 points-per-game pace each team had maintained in scorching its half of the bracket.
But the ensuing Columbia Basin run, an ensemble performance equal parts sweat and poetry, changed everything.
Hannah Depew made two free throws. Nelson hit a jump shot. Oswalt followed suit, then blocked a shot on the other end that Umpqua rebounded, only to see Ross dart into a passing lane for a steal that led to a Nelson 3-pointer.
Another Umpqua (24-7) turnover set up Nelson again, deeper this time, her 3 giving the Hawks their first taste of a double-digit lead that would swell for the duration. Nelson hit again, then French scored on the drive.
The sequence unfolded in a mere three minutes, a staggering 16-0 gut-punch.
First-team all-tourney pick Asia Smith had 20 points and 11 rebounds to pace Umpqua. Rachel Sample also had 20 points and Ashli Payne 15.
Umpqua’s Kyndal Charleston (11 points, four rebounds, two blocked shots) joined Smith, Oswalt, Bland and Clackamas’ Laci Effenburger on the all-tourney first team. Blue Mountain’s Jade Gutzman and Mar’Shay Moore, Lane’s Shelby Snook, Spokane’s Morgan Freeman and Irma Savoy of Chemeketa were named to the second team.
Effenburger was named the tournament’s Most Inspirational Player.