GNAC women’s tournament preview
The Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament returns to Saint Martin’s for the second straight year beginning on Wednesday, March 6th, the semifinals on Friday, March 8th and wrapping up with the championship game on Saturday, March 9th.
Western Washington and Simon Fraser enter the tournament ranked seventh and tenth in the nation and the remaining four teams are all evenly matched at 10-7 or 10-8 in conference play.
All eight games will be webcast on GNACSports.com with me, Brandon Sparks, providing color commentary alongside Montana State Billings’ Jeff Rosenberry. The championship game will air on Root Sports.
For ticket info and more, click here.
1. Western Washington (23-3 Overall, 17-1 GNAC)
Top players: Britt Harris – Sr. – C (14.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 59% FG PCT), Corrin Waltrip – Sr. – G (11.7 ppg, 43% 3 point PCT), Trishi Williams – Sr. – G (10.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.4 apg)
Key win: 59-57 vs. Simon Fraser – Jan. 12
Key loss: 59-74 @ Simon Fraser – Feb. 9
Western Washington has the top scoring team in the league and the second stingiest defense, shoots a high percentage from the field and from behind the arc. Their three top players are seniors, they are balanced across the board and are riding a six game winning streak into the tournament. Their one conference loss came to Simon Fraser on February 9th, a 15 point loss. But the Vikings followed that up with four double digit wins in their next six games.
2. Simon Fraser (22-4 overall, 15-3 GNAC)
Top players: Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe – Sr. – C (16.9 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 66% FG PCT), Erin Chambers – So. – G/F (13.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Kristina Collins – Sr. – G (10.2 ppg, 5.2 apg)
Key win: 74-59 vs. Western Washington – Feb. 9
Key losses: 57-59 @ Western Washington – Jan. 12, 59-60 @ Northwest Nazarene – Jan. 24, 60-70 @ Seattle Pacific – Feb. 14
Simon Fraser is the best defensive team in the GNAC allowing just 55 points per game and features one of the best players in Division II, senior Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe. Raincock-Ekunwe finished third in the league in scoring after two previous years on top and finished on top of the league in rebounding for the third straight season. Her 12.7 boards per game is third in the nation giving her her third straight year averaging a double-double. Her scoring dropped a bit because of the emergence of sophomore Erin Chambers and her 13.6 points per game. The Clan are riding a five game winning streak into the tourney.
3. Montana State Billings (17-9 overall, 11-7 GNAC)
Top players: Bobbi Knudsen – Jr. – G (17.6 ppg, 6.1 apg), Janiel Olson – So. – F (9.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg)
Key wins: 57-54 @ DI Montana State – Dec. 29, 66-56 vs. Seattle Pacific – Jan. 26
Key losses: 65-73 @ Western Oregon – Jan. 5, 71-76 @ Seattle Pacific – Feb. 23
Montana State Billings is led by junior guard Bobbi Knudsen, the GNAC’s leader in assists with 6.1 per game and second leading scorer at 17.6 points per game amounting for nearly 30 of the team’s 70 points per game. She also only turns the ball over 2.4 times per game for a 2.5 assist to turnover ratio, tops in the conference. The streaky Yellowjackets lost four straight games before picking up a pair of wins in the closing weekend including a 13 point win at Northwest Nazarene.
4. Alaska Anchorage (17-9 overall, 11-7 GNAC)
Top players: Sasha King – Sr. – G (15.5 ppg, 5.9 apg), Alysa Horn – Sr. – F (15.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg)
Key wins: 73-47 vs. DI North Dakota State – Nov. 20, 94-82 @ Northwest Nazarene – Feb. 16
Key losses: 49-76 vs. Northwest Nazarene – Jan. 17, 64-74 vs. Central Washington – Jan. 19
The defending GNAC tournament champion Seawolves have one of the most balanced attacks with three players averaging double digit scoring, one of just three teams in the conference to do so. Seniors Sasha King and Alysa Horn were almost identical in scoring at 15.5 and 15.2 points per game. King was second in assists per game while Horn was second only to rebounding machine Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe in boards per game. Junior Kylie Burns chipped in 11 points and 7.3 boards a game. The Seawolves are riding a seven game winning streak into the tournament including a 94-82 win over Northwest Nazarene in Nampa and a pair of home wins over Montana State Billings and Seattle Pacific.
5. Northwest Nazarene (19-7 overall, 11-7 GNAC)
Top players: Megan Hingston – Jr. – G (18.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 50.3% FG PCT), Chelsie Luke – Jr. – G (14.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Key win: 60-59 vs. Simon Fraser – Feb. 9, 76-49 @ Alaska Anchorage – Jan. 17
Key losses: 69-76 @ Seattle Pacific – Nov. 29, 82-94 vs. Alaska Anchorage – Feb. 16
Northwest Nazarene features the best underclassman in the GNAC in Megan Hingston. The junior guard led the conference in scoring and finished fourth in rebounding, the only guard amongst the leaders. But after a strong start, the Crusaders hit a rough patch and finished the season winning just two of their last six games including a 94-82 loss to their first round opponent Alaska Anchorage in Nampa. The Seawolves were just paying them back after the Crusaders spanked them on their home court earlier in the season. Northwest Nazarene has one advantage: they are familiar with Marcus Pavilion. They easily knocked off two opponents in the Saint Martin’s classic in December in addition to their conference win against the Saints.
6. Seattle Pacific (16-10 overall, 10-8 GNAC)
Top players: Katie Benson – Jr. – F (16.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Suzanna Ohlsen – So. – G (13.1 ppg, 3.6 apg), Aubree Callen – Jr. – G (12.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.7 apg)
Key win: 70-60 vs. Simon Fraser – Feb. 14, 76-71 vs. Montana State Billings – Feb. 23
Key losses: 66-70 @ Saint Martin’s – Jan. 5, 76-80 OT vs. Western Washington – Feb. 16, 67-82 @ Northwest Nazarene – Mar. 2
Despite coming in as the 6th seed, it’s hard to imagine anybody wants to play Seattle Pacific right now. The Falcons have won four of their last six games including wins over #2 seed Simon Fraser and #3 seed Montana State Billings, their opponent in the first round. They also took #1 seed Western Washington to overtime during that stretch. But the Falcons are second to last in scoring defense giving up 68.7 points per game. They were also just 3-6 on the road against GNAC foes including a 15 point loss to Northwest Nazarene on the final day of the regular season in Nampa. Junior forward Katie Benson finished fourth in the GNAC in scoring at 16.9 points per game.
Wednesday, March 6th
#3 Montana State Billings vs. #6 Seattle Pacific – 5:15 PM
#4 Alaska Anchorage vs. #5 Northwest Nazarene – 7:30 PM
Friday, March 8th
#2 Simon Fraser vs. MSUB/SPU winner – 12:00 PM
#1 Western Washington vs. UAA/NNU winner – 2:15 PM
Saturday, March 9th
GNAC Championship Game – 5:15 PM
Seeds three through six are impossibly evenly matched teams, three finished at 11-7 in conference and another at 10-8. The two opening round games should be intense, well played, close affairs. I expect the two star guards to shine with Bobbi Knudsen and Montana State Billings knocking off Seattle Pacific and Megan Hingston and Northwest Nazarene topping Alaska Anchorage. Honestly though, it’s a coin toss between all four of those teams.
But I can’t see either of the top two seeds losing in the second round, they are simply too good defensively. Western Washington will top the Crusaders and Simon Fraser will send the Yellowjackets packing.
In the championship game, as good as Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is, the balance of Western Washington will be too much for the Clan. Vikings win the championship in a great game that probably comes down to a late three pointer.
Vikings win 66-62.