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NWAC Women's Final Four: Cierra Jo McKeown rips the nets for 45 to send Walla Walla into Championship

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Walla Walla 93, Big Bend 64 stats

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Cierra Jo McKeown scored 27 of her school-record 45 points in the first half as Walla Walla secured a return berth into the NWAC Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game with a 92-64 win over Eastern Region foe Big Bend.

The Warriors, the East Region’s top seed and the second-ranked NWAC team, are now 31-1 and will meet top-ranked Umpqua, also 31-1, Sunday in the championship game. Big Bend, the fourth seed out of the East, finishes it season at 22-10. Walla Walla played in the title game a year ago and fell to Spokane in overtime.

It was the third victory for Walla Walla over Big Bend this season, including Eastern Region wins by scores of 91-62 and 96-46.

McKeown nailed a 3-pointer 23 seconds into the game and the Warriors never trailed.

They led 24-15 after one quarter and 51-29 at halftime. The Warriors shot 56 percent from the field in the first half, including 45 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Big Bend, which used the 3-point goal to its advantage in two upset wins earlier in the tournament, was just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half and 3 of 19 overall.

Big Bend began the third quarter on 9-4 run to get within 17 at 55-38 with 5:47 left in the third quarter, but McKeown recorded a steal, made a layin, was fouled and made the free throw to complete a three-point play to make it 62-42 with 3:16 left in the third. Big Bend never got closer than 17 from that point on.

Jade Skidmore added 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Warriors. Big Bend placed four in double figures led by the 19 points of Callie Gronning. Leah Dougherty added 14, Hailey Garrity had 13 and Sunnie Martinez scored 11.

Skidmore said despite the fact the Warriors owned two victories over the Vikings, they weren’t taking them lightly.

“We knew coming in we had won big a couple other times, but during the tournament they had obviously been playing well enough to beat some teams,” Skidmore said. “So we knew we had to take this game like we were playing a team we hadn’t played before and do our best.”

“We knew this would be a tough game and it was,” Walla Walla coach Bobbi Hazeltine said. “We survived.  It’s tough to beat a team three times, and it’s tough to play against somebody who knows you. Our biggest thing was to get past this game and we did and now we have to play the tallest team we’ve ever seen.”

That is Umpqua, and McKeown said the Warriors “just need to stay focused. Umpqua’s a really good team so I just think we need to play our game and we’ll be fine.”

“It will be a huge challenge for us because they are huge and we haven’t seen anybody that compares to them,” Hazeltine said. “But our kids are excited. We got to the championship game and that’s what we wanted to do.”


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