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Nighthawks, Seawolves Lead Field For GNAC Championships
NNU's Danielle Jardine (left) and UAA's Yazmeen Goo (right) look to lead their teams to a GNAC Championships title and an automatic berth to the Division II West Regional tournament.
NNU's Danielle Jardine (left) and UAA's Yazmeen Goo (right) look to lead their teams to a GNAC Championships title and an automatic berth to the Division II West Regional tournament.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Clinching its fifth postseason berth in school history, Northwest Nazarene enters as the top-seed in the 2018 GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships, which begins on Thursday at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.

The Nighthawks, the No. 1 seed, enter the tournament as the hottest team in the West Region after sharing their first GNAC regular-season title in program history. Co-regular season champions with Alaska Anchorage at 18-2, the Nighthawks won their final 13 games to achieve the feat. Alaska Anchorage will make its eighth appearance in the tournament and has claimed a share of GNAC regular-season championship after winning the title outright each of the last three years.

Earning the No. 1 seed over UAA via a tiebreaker, Northwest Nazarene (22-3 overall) began to click midway through the season. In fact, the Nighthawks’ last loss came in a 79-73 decision to Central Washington on Jan. 9. Taking on the Seawolves last Thursday, Northwest Nazarene came away with a 104-78 victory to hand Alaska Anchorage its second conference loss and split the season series.

For a majority of the year, the Nighthawks relied heavily on their balanced scoring attack. Coupled with the scoring efficiency of senior guard Lexi Tubbs, Northwest Nazarene looked unbeatable late in the season. During the Nighthawks’ 13-game win streak, Tubbs led the GNAC with 19.6 points per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor. For the year, she is second in the GNAC with 16.2 points per game and is ninth in the league with 6.4 rebounds per game.

Earning a majority of her appearances off the bench, junior forward Danielle Jardine ranks second on the team with 11.4 points per game and owns a GNAC-best .613 field goal percentage. The offensive side of the ball is where NNU has shined all season. Leading the GNAC with 80.7 points per game, Northwest Nazarene also ranks first with a .444 field goal percentage along with a .363 three-point field goal percentage.

Alaska Anchorage, the three-time defending tournament champion, is the No. 2 seed after finishing 25-3 overall, 18-2 GNAC. This year has seen UAA make a trio of lengthy runs. It opened the season 10-0 before falling to Sonoma State in its final non-conference contest. The Seawolves then went on to win six straight before falling to Seattle Pacific on Jan. 18 and eight straight until losing to Northwest Nazarene last Thursday.

A pair of forwards pace the Alaska Anchorage offense. Junior Hannah Wandersee is fourth in the GNAC with 14.6 points per game while senior forward Shelby Cloninger has supplied 13.3 points per contest. Defense has been the Seawolves’ staple this season, forcing an unprecedented 632 turnovers with opponents averaging 22.6 turnovers per game. It has the top-two GNAC steal leaders in sophomore Yazmeen Goo and junior Kian McNair. Goo leads the league with 3.1 steals per game while McNair is second in the GNAC with 2.9 per game.

The Seawolves are the top GNAC team in a number of categories this season, leading the league in scoring margin (+14.5), assists (19.2 per game), steals (14.3 per game) turnover margin (+6.93) and assist/turnover ratio (1.2). Alaska Anchorage is also second in the GNAC in scoring at 77.3 points per game.

In the GNAC Championships for a second-straight year, Seattle Pacific is the No. 3 seed following a streaky conference run that saw it finish 21-6, 15-5 GNAC. The Falcons began their GNAC slate at 3-2 before storming on a seven-game win streak in January. During the run, Seattle Pacific handed the Seawolves their first conference loss with a stout 66-48 defensive effort on Jan. 20 before snapping Montana State Billings’ four-game win streak on Jan. 27. Seattle Pacific opens the tournament against No. 6 Simon Fraser.

Like Alaska Anchorage, the Falcons used a stingy defense to carry them to the postseason. Seattle Pacific leads the league in scoring defense, allowing just 60.5 points per game, and has limited opponents to under 60 points 12 times this year. Junior guard Jordan McPhee is fifth in the GNAC with 14.4 points per game and is second on the team with a .435 field goal percentage. Senior Julia Haining has been an interior force as she is third in the GNAC with 7.3 rebounds per game, including 2.8 offensive rebounds per contest, and averages 8.2 points per game.

Montana State Billings (19-11, 12-8 GNAC) is the No. 4 seed and is back in the tournament following a year’s absence. It is led by the dynamic duo of seniors Alisha Breen and Rylee Kane, who have each etched their names in the GNAC record book. Named the 2017-18 GNAC Preseason Player of the Year, Breen has lived up to expectations. She leads the GNAC with 20.8 points per game and is third all-time in GNAC history with 1,835 points. Kane has been an assist machine her entire career as she is second in the GNAC with five assists per game and fourth all-time with 533.

Montana State Billings began the season with nine straight wins and improved by seven conference wins over last year. The three-point shot has been a mainstay in MSUB’s offense, leading the league in both three-point field goals (716) and three-pointers made (227). Kane is second on the team with 12.9 points per game while Breen has recorded 14 double-doubles.

Despite five losses in its last six games, the No.5 seed Central Washington (15-13, 11-9 GNAC) used a six-game win streak midway through the season to cement a spot in the tournament for the fourth time in program history. The Wildcats look to earn their first win against MSUB after falling both times in the season series. Senior guard Jasmin Edwards has been a consistent offensive threat her entire career as she is third all-time in GNAC history with 562 assists. Junior Sadie Mensing leads the team with 12.4 points per game.

Finishing the regular season with three straight home wins, Simon Fraser (14-11, 9-11 GNAC) received some late help to earn a berth. The Clan clinched the No. 6 seed with a Western Washington loss to Montana State Billings, 76-63, and Concordia loss to Seattle Pacific, 72-65, on the final day of the regular season. The Clan makes their eighth appearance in the dance and have been to the GNAC Championships’ semifinals five times. Junior forward Sophie Swant is sixth in the league with 14.2 points per game and has shot 89.4 percent from the free throw line all season.

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