Bulldogs settle for fifth
Instead, the loss sent Willamina (24-5) into the consolation bracket, and the Bulldogs lost 28-25 to Rainer to take fifth place in the state tournament Saturday.
“We were just happy to be here and have the opportunity to play,” Willamina coach Tom Anderson said. “We had a great year, and I’m extremely proud of these girls. There were a lot of good teams that didn’t make it (to Coos Bay), and we did.”
The Bulldogs appeared destined for Coos Bay after going undefeated 14-0 in conference play. Willamina improved its overall win total by two games this year, and made it to the semifinal round.
Anderson said the reason for the success is a simple, but honest answer.
“Hard work and dedication,” Anderson said. “It sounds really basic, like the ‘typical’ answer, but it’s the truth. It’s not just about basketball for these girls. It’s also about working together as a team.”
Up until that game, the Bulldogs were demolishing teams with their 2-3 zone defense and didn’t receive that pressure in return.
Until Willamina faced St. Mary’s.
After playing man defense though the opening minutes of the first quarter, the Crusaders also turned to the 2-3 zone.
The result spoke volumes.
St. Mary’s zone allowed three points in the first quarter and held Willamina to 13 points at halftime. The Crusaders held the Bulldogs to 10-for-33 shooting from the field and forced 12 turnovers.
“Other than us this season, we haven’t really seen much of a zone defense,” Anderson said. “Theirs was good, and it worked.”
After Friday’s loss to the Crusaders, the Bulldogs played for third place Saturday afternoon against a tough opponent in Rainier.
The Columbians finished first in the Lewis & Clark League and beat Pleasant Hill and Nyssa in the state tournament to get to the third-place game.
Rainier averaged 50 points per game and gave up 35 points per game. The Bulldogs scored an average of 48 points per game, while giving up a league-best 31 points per game.
“We knew Rainier was a good team and we just had to come ready to play,” Anderson said. “As I said before, the rankings don’t matter anymore. It’s about who plays better basketball and Rainier plays really good basketball and are well coached.”
Willamina trailed Rainier 23-11 in the opening minutes of the third quarter, but it wasn’t done.
“We are disappointed because we didn’t win the game,” Anderson said. “But (the coaches) preached all year that the best thing we can do is play our game and I felt like we did that. They just played better.”
The Bulldogs started to out-rebound the Columbians and tied the game at 25 on a free throw by Brook Wilson with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter, but it was as close as Willamina would get to pulling ahead of Rainier.
It was the Bulldogs’ first appearance in the state tournament (past the first round) since the 2010 season.
Willamina out-rebounded Rainier 50-43, but shot 3-of-15 from the free throw line, including 3-of-13 in the second half.
“We’ve really struggled this season with rebounding,” Anderson said. “We’ve really gotten on the girls about the importance of making free throws and the difference they can make. We really just kept trying to motivate them throughout the game and the tournament.”
The Columbians went on a 7-0 run coming out of halftime, but Willamina finished the third quarter and started the fourth on an 8-0 run and allowed one field goal the rest of the second half.
“I was so proud of that run down the stretch,” Anderson said. “The girls didn’t give up, and didn’t want to give up and really battled in the second half. That shows how dedicated this team is.”