The Washougal girls basketball team had the honor of playing some of the best teams in the nation at the eighth annual Jerry Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, Dec. 18 through Dec. 21.
The tournament is an homage to the late University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) men’s basketball coach, who led the UNLV Running Rebels to four “Final Four” matches.
The Washougal Panthers played four games during the four-game tournament, and finished with a record of 1-3.
“The tournament was important for us to experience — playing elite teams without much preparation,” Washougal’s head girls basketball coach Brittney Knotts said.
The Panthers’ first game of the tourney was against Valor Christian, a 5A private school that won the Colorado state championship in 2015 and 2016. The Panthers fell short 55-36, but playing a larger, faster team was a real eye-opener, according to Washougal senior Beyonce Bea.
“They were a really big team with lots of state experience, so we struggled with finishing offensively and dug ourselves a hole we couldn’t come back from,” Bea said. “But we learned right away (that) we have a lot to work on.”
In the second game, Washougal faced another bigger team, Bingham High from Utah.
This time, however, the Panthers were not intimidated. Washougal was in sync most of the game and kept the score close, but lost 61-60.
Washougal freshman Jaiden Bea said her team made some mistakes in the fourth quarter and learned elite teams will take advantage of those types of errors.
“We could have won that one, but had turnovers and with teams that good you can’t make mistakes like that,” Jaiden Bea, Beyonce Bea’s younger cousin, said.
Beyonce Bea led all scorers with 20 in the game against Bingham.
In their third game of the tournament, the Panthers beat Modesto Christian, a much smaller team from California, 61-46. Beyonce Bea scored 18 points, while McKinley Stotts had 14 and Jaiden Bea scored 8 points in a solid team performance.
Stotts said the Panthers played with more energy against Modesto Christian, than during any game so far this season.
“It was so fun and the other team was getting so mad at us because we had so much energy,” Stotts said. “The entire bench was cheering everyone when something good happened.”
The final game was against Vanden High School, one of the top teams in Los Angeles and the Panthers stayed close, losing by just 6 points. The Vanden girls were fast, scrappy and could shoot the lights out of the gym, according to coach Knotts.
“We are talking Steph Curry range,” Knotts said.
The Panthers fell behind by 11 in the first half, but came back in the second half to make it a very close game. Beyonce Bea scored 25 points and her younger sister, Skylar, had 13 points during the game against Vanden.
The girls also had a chance to explore the bright lights of Las Vegas, visit the aquarium at Mandalay Bay and ride the wild roller coaster at the New York, New York casino during their trip.
“We actually got on it for free because a friend from our school knew somebody, so we rode it together,” Jaiden Bea said.
Another highlight included dressing up and going out to an Italian restaurant for senior Ashley Gibbons’ 18th birthday.
“We all got dressed up and it was so much fun,” Stotts said.
With one game a day over four days, the Jerry Tarkanian Classic format is very similar to what teams face in state tournaments and the Panthers believe what they experienced will help them in the postseason.
“To go against really good teams from other states and to see new defenses and offenses and trying to figure out how to play against them was a great learning experience,” Beyonce Bea said.
Knotts said the girls also gained some character with lots of fundraising projects over the past year to pay for the trip, including cookie dough sales, pig raffle ticket sales, football concessions and a youth camp.
“The girls want hardware (a state trophy) and this tournament was a great teaching tool and measuring stick for us,” Knotts said.