The last time Richland and Walla Walla boys basketball teams met on Jan. 15, it took a three-point play by Gary Winston in the last 20 seconds to put the Blue Devils over the top 51-49 in their own gym.
This time, fifth-ranked Walla Walla brings an 11-game winning streak to Art Dawald Gym with the chance of clinching a tie for the CBBN Cascade Division title.
But against a motivated Bombers squad ranked seventh in the state, the Blue Devils (15-2, 10-1) face yet another uphill battle in a season-long series of Cascade clashes.
"It's another Cascade game between the top four teams. (Richland) can be a tough place to play. It can also be a fun place to play," said Walla Walla coach John Golden. "I think both teams want to push the ball up the court a little. Both teams have to take care of the ball. That will be a key."
Never miss a local story.
Their first matchup was a back-and-forth contest marked by 13 lead changes and seven ties. Streufert said the difference came down to the Blue Devils taking away some options on the Bombers' offensive end. Both teams will make minor adjustments, but Richland coach Earl Streufert expects a similar intensity and pace this time around.
"There's more room for adjustment on our side than theirs," he said. "They played pretty smart against us. If I was them, I wouldn't be changing a whole lot. They're always so sound on defense."
One key factor will come down to how well the Bombers can defend against Walla Walla's 1-2 punch of Gary Winston and Michael Weisner, who are averaging just over 41 points a game between them. In a 75-62 win over visiting Eisenhower last Friday, Weisner hit 6 of 7 3-pointers for a career-high 34 points.
"Right now, Michael is shooting as good or better than anybody in the league. He makes some tough ones in the lane, but when you're 6-foot-7 and can shoot like he does, you don't need a whole lot of room," Streufert said. "You just can't allow free shots against those two."
The matchup will feature two of the best defensive teams in the state, with each one allowing fewer than 54 points a game.
One of Richland's biggest strengths on offense has been its scoring balance with three players -- Colton McCargar (15.5), Garrett Gallinger (12.6) and Dylan Radliff (11.9) -- in double figures and a fourth, post Calvin Douglas, averaging 9.4. They will need to rely on that scoring balance and shoot close to 50 percent to come away with a win.
-- The Kamiakin Braves, coming off a huge win over Richland last Saturday, can put themselves in good playoff position with another strong weekend, but it won't be an easy stretch.
The Braves (14-3, 8-3) will travel to Hanford (7-9, 4-7) at 7:30 p.m. today and then come home to face eighth-ranked Eisenhower (13-4, 8-3) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Currently, Kamiakin is locked in a three-way tie for second place in the Cascade with Richland and Ike with three games to play.
-- The Cascade Division had three players -- Weisner, Winston and Hanford senior Pete Zachara -- nominated for the 2010 McDonald's All-American High School Basketball team. The trio are among 31 boys players nominated from Washington state and over 1,700 players around the United States.
"I was honestly surprised. There are a lot of good players around here that didn't get nominated," said Zachara, who is averaging 15.4 points a game for the Falcons. "It's an honor, but it won't affect the way I play."
The 27-member selection committee will then trim that list down to between 125 and 150 finalists next week. The process consists of five overall phases which will ultimately lead to the final 24 players, who will be notified at the end of February.
"Making that next cut is really exciting, but (Weisner and Winston) are just glad to be nominated," Golden said. "They're both pretty humble."