After having the beginning of its season slowed by a football championship and weather-related cancellations, the Kamiakin High School boys basketball team was finally able to get in a full slate of practice last week, and the continuity is beginning to show.
The Mid-Columbia Conference-leading Braves (16-2, 11-1) were still able to claw out a 6-2 record and only suffered one conference loss — at home against Walla Walla — through December despite only scoring more than 58 points in a game once.
The understandably underachieving Kamiakin attack seemed to hit its stride with the coming of the new year. The Braves have tallied 70 or more points eight times — including 74 in an overtime win at Richland on Jan. 14 — in their 10 January games, and most players and coaches are thrilled to be lighting up the scoreboard again.
“It feels pretty good because we’re finally clicking as a team,” senior guard/forward Isaiah Brimmer said. “It was pretty tough at the beginning of the year with the whole football thing, with Garrett (Paxton), me, Payton (Flynn) and Champ (Grayson) going deep. But it feels good to finally get it clicking again.”
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Some players, like senior guard Kobe Bailey, just view the high-scoring offense as a means to the Braves’ hopeful end.
“I’m more interested in winning,” Bailey said. “I could care less if I score 20 or five. I just want to win. The ultimate goal is to make it to the dome and make a state championship run.”
Higher point totals have been the effect of increased practice time, but Paxton (a junior guard) posited that it’s improved defense — and rebounding — that has allowed the team to run and gun.
“Our main focus has been transition, getting the ball, rebounding it and getting out fast,” said Paxton, who’s averaging 14.88 points per game. “That’s how we’ve been scoring more is probably off transition,.”
Kamiakin will need to be at full-speed on both sides of the ball when it hosts the conference’s fastest team, Richland (averaging 75.4 points per game as of Tuesday), on Friday in a game that should determine a league champ. The first installment of that matchup this season was an instant classic.
Paxton scored a season-high 26 points in that game, and said he was relishing the opportunity to play the Bombers again.
“It’s always fun playing those guys,” Paxton said. “It’s at our place this time, so it’ll hopefully be a great crowd and a great atmosphere.”
Kamiakin clinched the top MCC 3A seed with a win over Kennewick on Jan. 21. A victory over Richland would clinch the league title.
“Most importantly, we need to great ready for the postseason,” Kamiakin coach Brian Meneely said. “Our number one goal is getting the easiest possible path to Tacoma, and being the number one 3A seed was that. And if that includes a league championship, then of course we’d love to win that. But that’s not the be all, end all for us.”
If Richland splits the season series on Friday, and if it beat Chiawana on Wednesday, it could clinch the league championship outright with wins over Hanford on Saturday and Walla Walla, should the game need to be rescheduled.
MCC: Hanford (5-13, 5-7) occupies the fourth and final 4A MCC playoff berth and will host third-place Chiawana (8-10, 6-5 played Richland on Wednesday) on Friday. Chiawana will clinch the No. 3 seed with a victory. If Chiawana lost to Richland on Wednesday, Hanford needs to beat Chiawana and either upset Richland on Saturday or have Chiawana lose to Kennewick to take the No. 3 seed.
Because Pasco lost to Kennewick on Tuesday, both Hanford and Chiawana are guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.
SCAC EAST: After falling to Warden on Tuesday, Wahluke will try to even up the season series and likely claim the conference championship in a rematch in Warden on Thursday. A win for Warden would clinch the conference championship. If Wahluke wins, it will need to beat Columbia-Burbank on Saturday or have Warden lose to College Place to clinch the title.
Kiona-Benton is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and will hold onto the No. 3 seed with a win at Royal on Friday, or if River View beats Connell.
The loser of the River View at Connell game (Connell beat River View 67-63 on Jan. 13) Friday is eliminated from postseason contention.