MISSION — For most prep basketball teams, the non-leauge portion of the schedule is for teams to learn how to come together to be at their best come time for league play and the postseason. However, the Nixyaawii girls basketball team has proved there is no early-season learning curve as the defending 1A state champs have cruised to eight straight wins to start the season.
Friday night cruise control was still in effect for Nixyaawii, as they used a smothering defense and fast-paced offense to thump the Umatilla Vikings 78-29 to remain undefeated. Nixyaawii has now scored at least 63 points in all nine games this season, and are averaging 71.3 points per game, a testament to the talent and experience of the group.
“Most importantly, we’re starting four seniors and a junior so they’ve had those years o playing together and playing in the system, so we’ve basically just picked up where we left off last year,” Nixyaawii coach Jeremy Maddern said. “Obviously we’re very blessed with a lot of talented players, but we’re executing really well.”
Nixyaawii’s big three of Mary Stewart, Milan Schimmel and Kaitlynn Melton were excellent again on Friday as they combined for 57 of the team’s 78 points. Schimmel had a game-high 24 points and added eight steals, five blocks and five assists and Stewart had 20 points with six rebounds and five assists. Melton finished with 13 points and nine boards.
But aside from the three leaders, Nixyaawii (9-0) continues to see big steps taken each game by its secondary players including junior forward Ermia Butler, senior guard Ella Mae Looney and the rest of the Golden Eagles’ young bench. Looney knocked down two 3-pointers and finished with eight points and Butler played strong defense inside and turned in four points.
“They’ve been huge,” Maddern said. “Ermia’s really taken a huge step and Ella Mae’s always given us defensive tenacity and just invaluable. And this year she’s shooting the ball and shooting it well, better than most girls actually at a high percentage. She’s kept getting better every year and I’m happy to see her take that big step.”
The game was all Golden Eagles (9-0) as they led 24-5 after the first eight minutes were played. Nixyaawii used a 2-2-1 full-court press for most of the first quarter, helping force 10 Umatilla (3-7) turnovers before falling off into a match-up 2-3 zone for the remainder of the game. Overall, Nixyaawii forced 30 Umatilla turnovers and turned a numerous amount of those into points.
“Defensively we came in and did a lot of good things tonight,” Maddern said. “Our defense can lead to a lot of easy lay-ins and that match-up zone we run, we preach about trying to make teams skip-pass a lot so we can jump the lanes. And the girls are really instinctive where they almost anticipate that next pass.”
Umatilla’s best quarter came in the second when they scored 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting to make it a 45-19 game at the break. But in the second half, the Golden Eagles’ defense kept the Vikings from getting many good looks at the basket and by the time they did, the rhythm was gone and shots couldn’t seem to fall. Umatilla shot just 4-of-22 from the floor in the second half.
Lauryn Journot led the Vikings with nine points, Charlene Alvarez had eight points and Katelyn Lorence added five points.
Both teams now get a few days off for Christmas break before getting back into the swing of things next week. Nixyaawii will head to Helix on Thursday and Friday to take on South Wasco and Ione at the Bouncin’ Cancer fundraiser. Umatilla will head to Salem to play in the Salem Academy Tournament, first against Western Mennonite on Thursday.
UHS 5 14 2 8 — 29
NCS 24 21 21 12 — 78
UMATILLA — L. Journot 9, C. Alvarez 8, K. Lorence 5, A. Reyes 3, A. Ford 2, L. Leon-Leon 2.
NIXYAAWII — M. Schimmel 24, M. Stewart 20, K. Melton 13, E. Looney 8, E. Butler 4, L. Moses 3, K. Mountain Chief 2, T. Melton 2, Team 2.
3-pointers — UHS 3, NCS 4. Free throws — UHS 2-8, NCS 4-10. Fouls — UHS 11, NCS 12.
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.