Except for the knee injury that sidelined Eastern Washington University’s Nicole King earlier in the season, the matchup would have been ideal.
Tonight, Angella Bieber returns with Big Sky Conference women’s basketball champion Montana for a game against fourth-place EWU.
Instead of the two University High School graduates playing against each other, however, King will be watching from the sidelines.
Bieber is still looking forward to her homecoming.
“I’m so excited to be able to see all my relatives and friends and to just be home again,” she said.
The two ex-Titans are among six current Valley collegians who are on Division I basketball scholarships.
Like Bieber, a 1994 U-Hi graduate, a couple have been able to play in front of the home folks. Central Valley graduate Courtney Hepton, a junior who this season is the leading scorer for St. Mary’s College of California, scored 16 points when the Gaels lost at Gonzaga University on Jan. 27.
Another CV graduate, Arizona sophomore Jacque Clark, was in Pullman Feb. 2 when the Wildcats played against Washington State University.
Bieber, a 6-foot-3 backup center, averages 10 minutes and 2.1 points and rebounds per game for the Lady Griz.
The 5-foot-11 King graduated from U-Hi in 1991, a year before Bieber arrived. She was a starter at EWU and the Eagles’ scoring leader, averaging 13.2 points per game, until suffering a partial anterior cruciate knee ligament tear the fifth game of the season.
It was in King’s junior year in high school that the three-year starter and all-time Titan scoring leader helped her team to its first state berth and sixth-place finish.
Last year, when Bieber was a senior, U-Hi narrowly missed its second state trip.
If not for King’s injury, the two players would have faced each other competitively for the first time.
“I coached her the summer after I graduated from high school,” King said of Bieber. “But I never played against her. That will have to wait until next year.”
Bieber recalled that as a ninth grader, she scrimmaged against King and the Titans.
The Lady Griz last weekend clinched the Big Sky championship with a win over Boise State. Bieber has played a vital role.
“She’s backing up a very good player and doing a real nice job,” said Montana coach Robin Selvig. “I think she has a bright future.”
Bieber’s best game came in front of 8,700 people against then-No. 1 Tennessee. She scored a season high seven points and had five rebounds.
Both Valley players said the same thing when asked about their adjustment from high school to college ball.
“I knew it would be different but not this different,” said Bieber. “It’s a lot more intense as far as defense and a lot more fast-paced.”
But she also found out that horror stories she had heard about the difficulty of practice were unfounded.
It was more difficult, she said, going from three-year starter to a backup role.
“I definitely have more weaknesses than strengths,” she said. “I need to get stronger on my post moves and rebounding. Every aspect of my game needs to be improved upon.”
Still Bieber loves the atmosphere and coaching at Montana, a potential NCAA tournament qualifyer..
King, too, said that college basketball was a major adjustment, particularly the early morning running and conditioning.
“It’s the work ethic you have to have,” she said. “I thought high school was relatively easy. College was a big reality check.”
King didn’t play much as a freshman at Eastern, but was the second-leading Eagle scorer and rebounder as a sophomore. Then last year her playing time inexplicably decreased.
She credited a new coach and new position, power forward, with her hot start this year.
“I never played inside in high school, but it was really good for me,” she said. “Our offense is post oriented. They put me down there because I was the strongest girl. I could take bigger people and score and still got to shoot my threes.”
Because her injury came early in the season she meets the criteria for a conditional year. She’s looking forward to next season.
“The knee was a setback and I’ve been through a lot the last couple of months,” she said.
Meanwhile, tonight she must sit and cheer for both Bieber and EWU, which would secure a Big Sky tournament berth with an upset victory.