Big Bend women knocking on the NWAC tournament door

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  • Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend freshman Miranda Johnson drives the lane earlier in the season. The Lady Vikings host Treasure Valley in a critical NWAC East matchup on Saturday at DeVries Activities Center.

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    Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend sophomore Hailey Garrity (4) drives the lane earlier in the season. Garrity is currently ranked 11th in the NWAC in rebounding.

  • Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend freshman Miranda Johnson drives the lane earlier in the season. The Lady Vikings host Treasure Valley in a critical NWAC East matchup on Saturday at DeVries Activities Center.

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    Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend sophomore Hailey Garrity (4) drives the lane earlier in the season. Garrity is currently ranked 11th in the NWAC in rebounding.

MOSES LAKE — It’s been a long, long drought since a Big Bend women’s basketball team has qualified for the NWAC Tournament.

But the 2017-18 Vikings have a chance to punch their ticket with a strong showing in the final two games of the regular season. They host Treasure Valley on Saturday at DeVries Activities Center, then wrap up the regular season on the road at Yakima Valley Community College.

Right now, Big Bend goes into the final two games in fifth place in the East region and the team they need to beat to move up is coming to town — Treasure Valley (12-12, 7-6).

“There are two premiere teams in the NWAC in Walla Walla and Umpqua. But other than that anyone of the rest of us can get to the Final Four in my opinion,” Big Bend coach Preston Wilks said. “You just got to get to the tournament. With the way the East Region is this year, you’re so hardened and battle-tested, you feel like if you can just get to the tournament you have as good a shot as anybody of winning.”

It’s been 16 years since the Vikings (18-9, 7-7 NWAC East) have played in the NWAC Tournament. They have won six of their last 10 games, but the final two will determine if they become the first team since 2002 to represent Big Bend. To be playing meaningful games at this point in the season has set a buzz in the locker room.

“This is why you play the game,” Wilks said. “To be playing meaningful games at this point in the season is important for our program. Everybody is hungry. Everybody is super excited about the games we have in front of us. It’s been a long, long drought and with all the different scenarios out there, the simplest thing we can do at this point is to just go out and win them both.”

NWAC East leader Walla Walla (25-1) is one of the elite programs Wilks alluded to, having lost just once this season. Umpqua (Ore.) Community College (25-0, 12-0), Grays Harbor (22-2) and possibly Columbia Basin (20-7), are also contenders. Anything can happen, and that’s what Wilks and the Vikings are banking on. It all starts this weekend for Big Bend, which is shooting 67.3 percent from the floor and averaging 74.5 points a game.

“Treasure Valley is a team that will execute the post moves and their bigs are going to get inside,” Wilks said. “They can be tough if you don’t disrupt what they want to do.

“Our strengths are to spread the floor out a little bit and see if we can’t hit a few 3s. If we can stretch the defense, I feel like we have some kids that can drive and get by a defense.”

Miranda Johnson is averaging 12.5 points a game for Big Bend, shooting 32.4 percent from the floor. Sunnie Martinez, a 5-foot-8 sophomore from Layton, Utah, is good for 12.4 points a game and sophomore Hailey Garrity is currently ranked 11th in the NWAC in rebounding with 9.3 boards a game.

Rodney Harwood is a sports writer for the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at rharwood@columbiabasinherald.com

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