2014 GNAC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview
The Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament returns to Saint Martin’s for the third straight year (and the last time for at least one season) beginning on Wednesday, March 5th, with the semifinals on Friday, March 8th and wrapping up with the championship game on Saturday, March 9th.
Without one dominant team, the GNAC tourney is wide open. Montana State Billings won the regular season title but injuries have left them a bit depleted and vulnerable. Just two game separated the remaining five teams and even the sixth seed, Saint Martin’s, scored upsets of the Yellowjackets, Alaska Anchorage (twice) and Simon Fraser.
Speaking of the Saints, they qualified for the tournament for the first time since Marcus Pavilion has hosted the tournament and will play in front of a home crowd in the opening game on Wednesday at 5:15 PM. They take on a team that they have more than frustrated twice this season, Alaska Anchorage, with a semifinals date with Western Washington on the line.
Ticket information can be found here but if you can’t make it to the Pavilion, you can hear Rob Lowery, the voice of Central Washington basketball, and me, Brandon Sparks, on the call of the game for GNAC TV.
1. Montana State Billings (23-6 overall, 15-3 GNAC)
Top players: Bobbi Knudsen-Sr.-G (17.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5.9 apg), Kayleen Goggins-Jr.-F (10.8 ppg), Chelsea Banis-Sr -C (10.4 ppg, 56% field goal %, 5.8 rpg)
Key wins: 82-69 vs. Western Washington, 71-63 @ Western Washington
Key losses: 59-90 @ Alaska Anchorage, 59-69 @ Saint Martin’s
Montana State-Billings secured the #1 seed on Thursday with a 104-77 win over Alaska and finished the regular season with a 75-72 win over Alaska Anchorage on Saturday but they did so with an extremely thin and banged up roster. Junior Janiel Olsen, the GNAC’s leading rebounder at 10.4 boards per game, missed the last three games of the regular season and is likely out for the tournament leaving them with just eight healthy players.
Bobbi Knudsen is the fourth leading scorer in the GNAC at 17 points per game and leads the league in assists with 5.9 per game and does just about everything well. But she’s been a bit off over the last three games. She went 8-for-26 from the field in a loss to Saint Martin’s and 3-for-13 on Saturday against Alaska Anchorage. She has also played the most minutes of any player in the GNAC with 1005 over 29 games.
Why they will win: 3-Point shooting (made 226 threes, tops in GNAC).
Why they won’t: Injuries, depth.
2. Western Washington (17-9 Overall, 13-5 GNAC)
Top players: Katie Colard-Jr.-G (13.9 ppg, 40% 3PT), Sarah Hill-Sr.-F (10.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 50 blocks)
Key wins: 92-80 vs. Alaska Anchorage, 72-63 vs. Simon Fraser
Key losses: 62-68 vs. Seattle Pacific, 75-79 @ Alaska Anchorage
Western Washington is #2 in the GNAC scoring 74.5 points per game and the fourth best defensive team in the conference allowing 65.5 points per game. The Vikings are the best shooting team at 46% and the best 3-point shooting team at 36%.
Katie Colard has made 74 three pointers, best in the GNAC, and leads WWU with 13.9 points per game. The Vikings are as balanced as can be with six players scoring over nine points per game and have been led in scoring by eight different players this season. Sarah Hill is third in the conference with nine rebounds per game.
Why they will win: Offensive efficiency.
Why they won’t: If they go cold from the three point line.
3. Alaska Anchorage (19-7 overall, 12-6 GNAC)
Top players: Kylie Burns-Sr.-F (12.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 39% 3PT), Kiki Robertson-Fr.-G (10.8 ppg, 5.1 apg)
Key wins: 83-75 (2OT) vs. Divison I UC Riverside, 90-59 vs. MSU-Billings, 79-75 vs. Western Washington
Key losses: 78-86 vs. Saint Martin’s, 46-56 @ Saint Martin’s
Alaska Anchorage is the top scoring team in the GNAC by a wide margin. They score 81.8 points per game, seven better than the #2 team, Western Washington. They play a lot faster and take a lot more shots than anybody else in the conference putting up 1839 shots in 26 games. They don’t shoot particularly great from the field at just 40% but are the second best three point shooting team at 33%. They are fantastic on defense having forced 618 turnovers on 14.7 steals per game.
Another balanced scoring team, they have had seven different players lead them in scoring this season. Alli Madison leads the Seawolves in scoring (13.2 ppg) but hasn’t played a lot over the last couple of weeks after an injury.
Why they will win: Their fast paced, high pressure style.
Why they won’t: Not making shots off of that fast paced, high pressure style.
4. Simon Fraser (17-8 overall, 12-6 GNAC)
Top players: Erin Chambers-Jr.-F (22.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Katie Lowen-Jr.-G (11 ppg)
Key wins: 62-58 vs. Western Washington, 78-74 vs. Alaska Anchorage
Key losses: 54-63 vs. Central Washington, 71-73 @ Saint Martin’s
Erin Chambers. That’s Simon Fraser for you this year. Erin Chambers. She leads the GNAC in scoring with 22.7 points per game and has led the Clan in 20 of their 25 games. She is going to take a lot of shots and score a lot of points. The key to stopping the Clan seems to be to limit the effectiveness of anybody else, especially Katie Lowen. The second leading scorer on the team and the only other player in double-digits (11 points per game) has mostly had her worst games in their losses.
And the team that featured the best rebounder in the GNAC over the last three years, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, has the second least rebounds this season pulling down 911 boards while their opponents have hauled in 998.
Why they will win: Erin Chambers.
Why they won’t: Lack of rebounding, second scorer.
5. Seattle Pacific (18-8 overall, 11-7 GNAC)
Top players: Katie Benson-Sr.-F (19.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 50% FG), Suzanna Ohlsen-Jr.-G (13.9 ppg, 3.8 apg)
Key wins: 63-57 vs. MSU-Billings, 68-62 @ Western Washington
Key loss: 67-75 vs. Northwest Nazarene
Seattle Pacific has the GNAC’s best all around player, Katie Benson (19.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg), and a stout defense that allows just 63 points per game. They don’t score a whole lot of points at 68.5 points per game and Suzanna Ohlsen (13.9 ppg) is the only other player that averages in double-digit scoring for the Falcons.
Why they will win: Katie Benson and defense.
Why they won’t: Nobody that can score outside of Benson, Ohlsen and Betsy Kingma.
6. Saint Martin’s (17-10, 11-7 GNAC)
Top players: Chelsea Haskey-Sr.-C (13 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Angela Gelhar-Jr.-G (10.6 ppg)
Key wins: 85-78 @ Alaska Anchorage, 73-71 vs. Simon Fraser, 56-46 vs. Alaska Anchorage, 69-59 vs. MSU-Billings
Key loss: 64-78 @ Alaska
The Saints are the best defensive team in the conference holding their opponents to just 60.4 points per game and 36% shooting and are playing on their home court where they lost just two games all season. Conversely, they are ninth out of ten teams in scoring at 64.6 points per game and are the worst shooting team at just 35%. Chelsea Haskey leads the Saints with 13 points per game and Angela Gelhar scores 10 and has the ability to dramatically heat up.
SMU draws Alaska Anchorage, who they have had their way with this season. They scored a huge road win in Anchorage and then thoroughly drove the Seawolves crazy in a 54-44 win in Lacey.
Why they will win: Defense, home court advantage.
Why they won’t: No matter how few points they allow, they have to score.
Wednesday, March 5th
#3 Alaska Anchorage vs. #6 Saint Martin’s – 5:15 PM
#4 Simon Fraser vs. #5 Seattle Pacific – 7:30 PM
Friday, March 7th
#2 Western Washington vs. UAA/SMU winner – 5:15 PM
#1 Montana State-Billings vs. SFU/SPU winner – 7:30 PM
Saturday, March 8th
GNAC Championship Game – 7:30 PM
Wednesday: I hate to do it, but I can’t see Alaska Anchorage losing a third time to Saint Martin’s, especially after the verbal beating they took from their coach after their disastrous loss in Lacey.
Simon Fraser swept Seattle Pacific in the regular season and in a battle of the GNAC’s two top scorers – Chambers and Benson – I’ll take the Falcons and their defense to figure out the Clan.
Friday: The Vikings and Seawolves split their season series and this game, like much of the tournament, is a toss up. Western has only been playing eight players recently and if Alli Madison is back and healthy for Alaska Anchorage, I think they will wear out Western.
The injury to Janiel Olson and Montana State-Billings’ lack of healthy, in uniform players worries me. But they have won 13 of their last 14 games and I think that Bobbi Knudsen and the rest of the healthy Yellowjackets will knock off Seattle Pacific.
Saturday: Just one week after Montana State-Billings knocked off Alaska Anchorage in the regular season finale, the Seawolves and their deep, healthy bench win the GNAC tournament in a close, hard fought game.
Seawolves 77, Yellowjackets 69