Excited was the word UCC men’s basketball coach Daniel Leeworthy used to describe how his team is feeling.
Umpqua Community College will play Spokane at 4 p.m. Thursday in a Sweet 16 game at the Northwest Athletic Conference Championships at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington.
It’ll be a tournament debut for all of the players from the two-year community college, which failed to make the tournament last season.
“We’re excited to go to the playoffs,” Leeworthy said.
Connor Shaw and Eric Klekas are both healthy and as returning starters have led the team throughout most of the regular season.
Freshman John Morrill-Keeler scored a career-high 30 points against Lane Community College in Monday’s loss and has continued to improve throughout the season.
The Riverhawks (20-9) finished second behind Lane in the South Region, while Spokane (20-9) was third in the East.
“They have height and good quality shooters,” Leeworthy said. “We have to play hard for every possession.”
UCC was ranked No. 5 in the final coaches’ poll, Spokane was not in the top eight, but did receive four votes. Lane is No. 2.
The winner will move on the play the winner of the South Puget Sound-Whatcom game on Friday.
Umpqua just came off back-to-back games with Portland and Lane on Sunday and Monday respectively. “Early on in the season we sometimes played three games in three days, we did that three times," Leeworthy said. “We’ll be prepared for (back-to-back games). It drains you mentally and physically, but in the playoffs there’s always extra energy.”
The two teams faced each other twice in the preseason. The first contest was won 94-89 by Spokane at the Dale Bates Classic on Dec. 8 and the second one went the way of the Riverhawks, 87-73, on Dec. 15.
“Just watching film you can see they’re not the same team, they’ve grown a lot and it’s an exciting matchup,” Leeworthy said.
The Final Four and championship games will take place the following weekend.