Boys Basketball: Vikings roll over Bruins

Umatilla's Nathan Creason wrestles for control of the ball with Columbia's Adam Tippel Friday in the Vikings' 71-51 win over the Bruins in Umatilla.<BR><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris

UMATILLA - Ruben Navarrete picked the perfect time to officially arrive in the new season for the Umatilla boys' basketball team.

In the semifinal game Friday and the championship game Saturday of the Columbia River Clash, Navarrete scored a combined 32 points, including 16 against the Columbia Bruins in a 71-51 route for the tournament title.

The Umatilla girls did not have the chance to try and make it a Viking sweep in the tournament, though, as the girls' title game was cancelled. The Vikings were slated to play Imbler, but the Panthers never made it over the pass Saturday.

After being held scoreless in the first half, Navarrete exploded for 10 points in a 25-point Viking third quarter that essentially sealed the deal going into the final frame.

"He's having a phenomenal year," said Umatilla senior Levi Russell, who added six points. "We've been waiting for him to come into a little bit of stardom and 16 tonight, 16 last night - he's just a player. He's kind a catalyst to our offense and it's nice having him out there."

While the Bruins (2-1) were content packing it in early, Navarrete watched as the trio of Steven Williams, Russell and Taylor Pankey drilled six of the seven three-point shots for Umatilla (5-1) in the first half. At the break Williams led all scorers with eight of his 16 points.

But once Columbia extended its defense, the senior took over, cutting to the rim and scoring with ease.

"Outside shots are not my strength, Navarrete said. "Getting inside got me a little more focused on the game and I was able to get some more buckets."

Whether the key to getting the offense going again after a stagnant second quarter - in which the Vikings scored just eight points - was spacing, which was Russell's theory, or defense according to Williams, there was little doubt Umatilla had found an opening against the Bruins.

Columbia could not match the Vikings' speed in the third quarter, falling further and further behind. Even with senior forward Nathan Creason sidelined with his fourth foul in the opening minute of the second half, the Vikings did not miss a beat.

"We have more than just five guys who can play good defense," Williams said. "With our starters, we have probably seven or eight guys who can play all season and we can all play defense so there really isn't any slack."

In the interior, Umatilla coach Tony Villanueva plugged in junior Kiko Campos for Creason and found out the six-foot, three-inch center could be a force in the paint.

Campos was asked to guard the Bruins' leading scorer for the tournament, Carlos Mendoza, and helped hold him to his lowest point total of the weekend, 13.

"He works hard," said Russell of Campos. "We all work hard in practice and Kiko is no exception. We get one guy who goes out and have two or three guys who can come in to replace him. If someone goes to the bench with foul trouble we can replace him no problem because we're so deep."

Winning their home tournament this year also gave the Vikings a look into how they may fare going forward, according to Villanueva with several tough teams squaring off day after day.

"Our league is really tough," Russell said. "We're playing really good teams right now and that's going to help us get ready for that state level."

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