Big Bend sophomore Koby Huerta making his way through NWAC ball

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  • Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend sophomore Koby Huerta was the Under Armour NWAC Player of the Week and an NWAC Crossover Tournament MVP. Now he's ready to meet the challenges of one of the toughest regions in the conference when the Runnin' Vikes host defending NWAC champion North Idaho on Wednesday at the DeVries Activity Center.

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    Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend point guard Koby Huerta (1) is currently fourth in scoring average in the NWAC. The Runnin' Vikes host the defending NWAC champion North Idaho Cardinals today, 7 p.m., at the DeVries Activity Center.

  • Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend sophomore Koby Huerta was the Under Armour NWAC Player of the Week and an NWAC Crossover Tournament MVP. Now he's ready to meet the challenges of one of the toughest regions in the conference when the Runnin' Vikes host defending NWAC champion North Idaho on Wednesday at the DeVries Activity Center.

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    Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Big Bend point guard Koby Huerta (1) is currently fourth in scoring average in the NWAC. The Runnin' Vikes host the defending NWAC champion North Idaho Cardinals today, 7 p.m., at the DeVries Activity Center.

Before you can run the floor, you have to run the hills.

Before you can play belly button-to-belly button defense from the inbounds to the other end, you have to hit the weights.

Before you can shoot the 3 coming off the screen, there’s the endless shooting drills in the empty gym where no one watches, just the echo of the ball, the floor and the rim.

Before the game, there is the game before the game, the film study, the intellectual prep work.

Before you get game, you gotta earn it, and second-year Big Bend guard Koby Huerta has put in the time that’s starting to show up on game day.

“I love the game of basketball,” said Huerta, who was the Under Armour Player of the Week in Week 1 and an NWAC Crossover Tournament MVP going into he break. “I’ve been playing it all of my life. I just like preparation basketball. Doing all the film study, the off-season work, and taking it from the gym to the game.

“It’s a high-speed sport, which I like a lot. I love the competitiveness and how physical you can be in basketball. I just like all aspects.”

At 5-foot-10, the second-year player out of Covington better be in shape and a step quicker, because he’s going up against bigger, stronger, quicker than anything he saw leading Kentwood to a 4A state championship a few years back. The Northwest Athletic Conference isn’t the ACC, but it’s a level change and everybody’s got game, and there’s only one way to keep up — work.

“I put in a lot of work this offseason just to become a better player,” he said. “People see me on game day, but they don’t see all the work (in the gym) I’ve done to get there. I’ve definitely done more lifting this offseason because I wanted to make sure I come back stronger so I could be a better defender and be able to guard bigger guys.”

He’s a waterfall on the floor, pouring in points from the perimeter with a fluid motion that’s a tribute to his time in the gym. He’s currently ranked fourth in scoring average (24.5) behind NWAC leader Markieth Brown Jr. (25.8) of Everett, and eighth overall in scoring (84 of 165 from the floor). He goes into the second half of the season 28 of 76 from 3-point range and 46 of 58 from the free-throw line with 242 total points.

Second-year head coach Mingo Scott has been running transfer Seraphin Decker out of Shadow Ridge in Las Vegas at the point guard, which allows Huerta a little freelance time in the flow of the offense. The formula seems to be working, giving the Runnin’ Vikes a 6-3 point guard and turning the pure shooter loose.

“I like shooting the 3 and driving, but if I had to choose one I’d say I like to take to the rack and see if I can’t get them in foul trouble in the process,” Huerta said. “I’d definitely like to up my scoring percentage, which I have so far.

“I love passing the ball and setting my teammates up on the assist. But I want to rebound the ball a lot better than last year. So I still have a lot to work on.”

The end game is to continue to a four-year program, but he’s earning his chops in a pretty good conference that produced former North Idaho College standout James Webb III, who became the first Cardinal player to play in the NBA, making his debut with the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 27, 2018 against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They can play in the NWAC and it’s a good proving ground the sophomore out of Covington said.

“I didn’t really know a lot about the NWAC before I got here, but it’s a super competitive conference and I really enjoy it,” Huerta said. “I played a lot of AAU growing up and had a chance to play against guys from all over the country and I definitely like it a lot. Here, you’re going against players you never played against before or heard of, and I like that.”

The Runnin’ Vikes (9-1) open the second half of the season with the defending NWAC champion North Idaho Cardinals (9-1) on Wednesday to begin the NWAC East schedule. It’s expected to be another brutal run just to get out of the Eastern Region with Spokane (7-3), Wenatchee Valley (7-3) and Walla Walla (5-5) all ready to make a move. Yakima Valley (1-8) lost 8 of 9 games in the first half, but don’t count the Yaks out when it’s game-on in the East.

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