Umpqua’s womens basketball team stormed past Grays Harbor by a final score of 86-68 on Sunday, March 10 in Everett, Washington. The RiverHawks victory secured their spot in the Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament’s Final 4 against the East Region champion Big Bend.
“It’s been extremely rewarding to work with this group. I’m really proud of them. To see the growth we’ve had from our first scrimmage to now has been as rewarding as any team I’ve coached,” coach Dave Stricklin said of his team’s performance this season.
UCC enters the Final 4 riding a six-game win streak, a streak that nearly came to an end during Umpqua’s final regular season game against Lane where the RiverHawks squeaked out a narrow victory by the final score of 79-78.
RiverHawks vs. Lane
RiverHawks freshman forward Darian Mitchell led the fight against Lane, notching a double-double with 22 points to go along with 16 rebounds. Sophomore guard Taylor Stricklin added 20 points combined with seven rebounds and four assists.
Umpqua trailed Lane 66-60 heading into the fourth quarter; that lead would grow to as much as 12 points as Lane took a 78-66 advantage with just five minutes remaining in the game.
With their backs against the wall, Umpqua turned up their intensity level on defense, going on a 13-0 run to close out the final five minutes of the game. Umpqua then took a 79-78 lead when freshman forward Darian Mitchell hit the go ahead bucket with just five seconds left in regulation.
“I knew that play would work. I was more concerned with getting a stop on the defensive end,” Stricklin said of Mitchell’s game winning shot. “We’ve run that play once a year for 23 straight years, and it’s worked every time, so there was no doubt in my mind; I was worried about getting one last stop on the other end of the floor.”
Lane had a chance to put Umpqua away at the buzzer, but Lane’s freshman guard Kylie Gulsdorf was unable to convert on a last second game-winning lay-up.
“It was a huge win because it gave us the region championship,” Stricklin explained, “That win gave us a more favorable match-up entering the NWAC tournament.”
Sweet 16: RiverHawks vs. North Idaho
The RiverHawks rode the momentum gained in their victory against Lane into their NWAC tournament Sweet-16 match against North Idaho, grinding out a close victory by a final score of 68-62 on Saturday, March 9 in Everett, Washington.
“From a coaching stand-point, we knew exactly what to expect against North Idaho,” Stricklin said.
Mitchell set the tone on both ends of the floor; her 16 rebounds led Umpqua to a 56-32 advantage on the boards. Mitchell also added a game-high 26 points to go along with Stricklin’s 18-point night.
UCC maintained a 36-26 lead through halftime, but North Idaho would come back to cut Umpqua’s lead down to just 50-48 heading into the final quarter of play.
Despite coming within one possession of the RiverHawk’s lead, North Idaho’s late game push would be inadequate to overcome UCC, with freshman guard Cielo Gonzales and Mitchell hitting clutch late game free-throws to seal the game in the RiverHawk’s favor by a final score of 68-62.
Elite 8: RiverHawks vs. Grays Harbor
With their defeat of North Idaho, Umpqua advanced into the Elite 8 of the NWAC Tournament where they cruised to victory against second place Grays Harbor by a final score of 86-68.
Scoring was at a premium for the RiverHawks during their Elite 8 contest. A total of three scorers finished with 20 or more points. Gonzales contributed 20 points, five steals, and four assists. Stricklin drained seven 3-pointers on her way to scoring 29 points. She also added seven boards and five assists. Mitchell continued her strong tournament run, adding 26 points of her own combined with 15 rebounds on her way to a second straight double-double.
Rebounding was once again a key to victory for the ‘Hawks, out-rebounding Grays Harbor 53-37 behind the efforts of Mitchell. Freshman forward Grace Campbell also had a big night on the boards, tallying 14 of her own rebounds coming off the bench.
Final Four: RiverHawks vs. Big Bend
Umpqua will look to continue their success in the tournament, as they take on first place Big Bend for a chance at a spot in the NWAC Championship game. The game is scheduled to take place at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. Tip-off is scheduled at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 16.