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MailTribune.com
  • WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL

    Newcomb making most of her last hurrah

    Former South Medford standout's basketball travels led her to Eastern Oregon, where she's one of the top players in the country
  • The clock was ticking on Brittney Newcomb's college basketball career.
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    • BRITTNEY NEWCOMB
      who: Former South Medford point guard who is in her senior year of college with the fifth school she's been connected to.
      • WHAT: For No. 14 Eastern Oregon, she leads the Cascade Collegiat...
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      BRITTNEY NEWCOMB
      who: Former South Medford point guard who is in her senior year of college with the fifth school she's been connected to.

      • WHAT: For No. 14 Eastern Oregon, she leads the Cascade Collegiate Conference in scoring and is fourth in the nation with a 22.9 average. She's No. 2 nationally in free throw percentage and No. 3 in 3-pointers per game.
      • UP NEXT: Eastern Oregon visits Oregon Tech tonight and Southern Oregon Saturday. Both games are at 5:30 p.m.
  • The clock was ticking on Brittney Newcomb's college basketball career.
    A circuitous journey to her senior season had taken her, in one way or another, to four schools in four states, and the former South Medford High star was looking for another. She yearned to finish on a high note. She was an impact player, but that mattered little if she didn't have a place to exercise her abilities.
    Enter school No. 5, Eastern Oregon University.
    The perennially successful Cascade Collegiate Conference program in La Grande was in dire need of a dynamic scorer. The Mountaineers went 33-3 last season, including an unbeaten league campaign, and made it to the NAIA Division II national quarterfinals. But coach Anji Weissenfluh would come back this year, her 14th, minus four starters, five seniors and nearly 80 percent of her scoring from 2012-13.
    Back to Newcomb.
    The 5-foot-7 guard with the deft shooting touch and slick ballhandling skills seemed to be the answer. Granted, her history of bouncing around was of initial concern, but that red flag was folded and put away once Weissenfluh did some research.
    "You want to do your homework and make sure it's a good fit," says Weissenfluh. "It's not fair to recruit a kid that won't be a good fit. With her and her stops along the way, we knew there weren't good fits and why. We definitely did our homework.
    "There wasn't as much concern, to be honest, because it was a one-year thing. She was close to graduation. It was a minor investment on our part for what we were getting."
    What the Mountaineers got exceeded their expectations by a goodly margin.
    Newcomb leads the conference in scoring with an average of 22.9 points per game, which is 61/2 more than second place.
    Moreover, she's second nationally by the narrowest of margins — .001 — in free-throw percentage, having made 91 of 101 for 90 percent. For perspective, that would rank her fourth in the NBA.
    She's third in the nation in 3-pointers per game (3.72) and fourth in scoring.
    "We joke about it," says Weissenfluh, "about her being the superstar."
    Needless to say, Newcomb and Eastern Oregon have been good for one another, and they'll be on display Saturday when the 14th-ranked Mountaineers (17-4, 9-0 CCC) visit Southern Oregon University (16-5, 5-4) for a 5:30 p.m. game at Bob Riehm Arena in Ashland.
    When the two met in December, Newcomb had 30 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds in a 102-78 win. It was the most points the Raiders had allowed in nine years.
    "I knew going in it was a big game," says Newcomb, who at one time committed to play for the Raiders but opted out before setting foot on the SOU court. "We all stepped up and, of course, it is a rivalry game for me, coming from that area."
    She graduated in 2009 from South Medford, where she was third in the state in scoring and was named to the all-state second team.
    Understandably, she had collegiate options and elected to play at Missouri University of Science and Technology. But she was only there for about a month before personal issues led her to return to the Rogue Valley.
    She decided to transfer to SOU and play for coach Lynn Kennedy, but changed her mind and instead went north to Yakima (Wash.) Valley Community College.
    "I loved the program and the coach, but it was more a personal decision for me," Newcomb says of SOU. "I wanted to get out of the area. I grew up there and wanted to venture off and go somewhere else where things were new."
    She wanted to start at "square one" at a junior college and try to play her way to a four-year school.
    Newcomb did that, helping the Yaks to the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges title game two years in a row, winning it in 2011. She averaged 13.4 points as a freshman and 15.5 points as a sophomore in 2011-12, when she was named the school's female athlete of the year.
    Weber State came calling and Newcomb cast her lot with the NCAA Division I team in Ogden, Utah.
    It was a largely forgettable season with the Wildcats, members of the Big Sky Conference. They were winless in 29 games last year, with Newcomb playing in 20 of them and starting four. She averaged 6.2 points and thrice led the team in scoring, with a high of 21 in a blowout loss at Arizona.
    She and the coach didn't mesh, she says, prompting her to look for one last school.
    "I kind of had the mindset that this was my last year and I wanted to make it the best of all the college years," says Newcomb.
    Weissenfluh knew of Newcomb at South Medford and was reintroduced to her when Eastern Oregon scrimmaged Yakima Valley.
    "She did a number on us," says the coach. "I remembered her and remembered her fondly. She put up a lot of points in that scrimmage."
    The EOU staff kept tabs on Newcomb because an assistant coach of Weissenfluh's had also played at Yakima Valley. When Newcomb elected to transfer from Weber State, Weissenfluh contacted her and sold her on the program.
    Newcomb likes to have the ball and create scoring opportunities. That's what EOU was looking for, and Weissenfluh has given her lots of freedom.
    "Brittney can do a lot more than just offense, but it's the way she scores points," says Weissenfluh. "We're not necessarily running plays through her. Her game is pretty independent, pretty individualized."
    Newcomb is happy with how things have played out.
    "I wish, in a sense, I would have picked one school and stayed there for four years," she says.
    But, she adds, she's glad to have been in a variety of programs under several coaches and been given the chance to meet lots of people she still stays in contact with.
    Returning to SOU this weekend "is gonna be different," she says. "I haven't been back there in a while. It'll be fun seeing people who have watched me play before. I have a lot of familiarity with the gym, so it won't be too different."
    Among those she's looking forward to seeing and playing against is the Raiders' Allison Gida, who has played as well as anyone in the conference in recent weeks. The two were fast friends during their AAU days.
    Newcomb's goal is to help the Mountaineers return to the national tournament.
    After school (she's studying business), she'd like to go overseas to play professionally or start a coaching career.
    Either way, she'll look back fondly on her last hurrah.
    "She's a really quiet kid and doesn't have a lot of facial expressions or emotion," says Weissenfluh. "Brittney has been extremely coachable. She's worked hard to make her last place at the college level work. She's working hard to make sure she's finishing the right way, and I'm proud of her for that."
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com
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