Coeur d’Alene, ID — Two of the heavyweight teams in the Northwest Athletic Conference this season are meeting on the hardwood Wednesday. The Wenatchee Valley College men’s basketball team is 15-1 on the season. They are playing at the defending N-WAC Champion North Idaho. The Cardinals are also 15-1. Could this be an N-WAC championship game preview?
“North Idaho is very athletic. They have four Division 1 players, so it will be a battle on the glass. They are the number one rebounding team in the N-WAC. They are also number one in free throws per game,” said WVC Head Coach Jeremy Harden. “We match up pretty well with them size-wise, but they are a little more athletic. I think it will be a good battle.”
North Idaho returns three players from their 2018 championship team including Nate Pryor (6-4), a former University of Washington commit. The Cardinals have a University of Missouri transfer, a Tennesse State commit and Idaho State commit.
WVC has just one Divison 1 player, sophomore Malik Parsons (6-4).
“They are loaded. Overall, they have more talent, but I think our guys are more than ready for it,” Harden said. “We’re very similar. We rely on our size and inside play. They have two 6-10 kids who are going to be tough to maneuver around. I have a pretty good game plan and I’m very confident in the results.”
The Knights are the top rebounding team in the N-WAC in terms of margin at 17.9. WVC is averaging 25.2 rebounds per game while the Cardinal average 34.4. WVC is the fifth rated defense, giving up 72.3 per game.
North Idaho is the top-rated offense at 98 points per game. Plus they lead the league in free throws attempted at 449. WVC is second at 405. Neither team relies much on threes. WVC is 78-of-246 or 31.7 percent. North Idaho is 122-of-359 or 34 percent.
“They have four or five guys that play above the rim. With the athleticism, we have to be very careful about the shots you take. They press you for about 40 minutes. We have to be very careful with the situations you put your players in,” Harden said. “We have a pretty good thing going. We are a little turnover prone, but I think our guys will be able to adjust to their length.”
The top scorer for the Knights is Parsons, who is averaging 22.8 per game. Pryor is the leading scoring for the Cardinals at 15.1 per game. Freshman Isaac Jones (6-8) is the leading rebounder for the Knights at 8.9 per game. Cardinal sophomore Yusuf Mohamed (6-11) averages 14.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Harden feels the two teams match up well.
“They have a Division 1 point guard. We have a Division 1 point guard. They have some size. We have some size. They are more athletic. They get up and down and try to turn you over. We kind of slow it down and play bully ball,” Harden said. “This game will have to be a little different because they are just as big as us. I have some things I’m confident in that should work.”
Harden said there is an area where North Idaho has been exposed. He thinks they can exploit some of their weaknesses in regards to their offensive threat. Defensively, Harden believes they can stay with them.
They will show them different defenses. It should be a good game to watch, he said. The Knights are healthy and ready to go.
“The guys are pumped. This is the type of game that they get up for. They get up for every game, but when you look over and you have 6-10, 6-10, 6-8, 6-8, 6-4. They ran through the N-WAC last year. They got us by 30 both games last year,” Harden said. “I have some guys who are looking to play at the next level as well, so I think it will be a good match up.”
After North Idaho, the Knights have another tough game at home against Spokane (4-0, 14-3) on Saturday. Monday, WVC hosts Yakima (3-1, 6-9).