Flyin' Like An Eagle Falcon To Start The GNAC's Second Half
Senior transfer Gilles Dierickx is third in the GNAC in field goal shooting at 59.3 percent. He is averaging 12 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Senior transfer Gilles Dierickx is third in the GNAC in field goal shooting at 59.3 percent. He is averaging 12 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

SOARING UP THE STANDINGS: In the jumble that punctuated the start of the second half of the GNAC season, there may be no team that benefitted more than Seattle Pacific.

The Falcons won both of their games on their Alaska road trip. Those wins, combined with two losses by the Seawolves, moved Seattle Pacific into a tie for second place with UAA at 9-3.

The Falcons cruised to a 45-23 halftime lead on Thursday in Fairbanks, shooting a torrid 58.6 percent from the field in the stanza before holding off a second half Alaska run for the 79-69 victory. Mitch Penner, the reigning GNAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Week, scored 29 points on 9 of 16 from the field and 4 of 7 from three-point range.

It was a much closer game at Alaska Anchorage on Saturday. The Falcons held a 41-39 halftime lead and led by as much as 15 points halfway through the second half, but the Seawolves closed to within three points, 72-69, with 21 seconds left, but held on for the 74-71 victory. Penner again led the way with 24 points as four SPU players finished in double figures.

Seattle Pacific enters the week having won seven straight games and 15 out of their last 18 games. One of the top defensive teams in the nation, the Falcons lead the GNAC in scoring defense (64.4 points allowed per game), field goal percentage defense (.393), three-point percentrage defense (.263), rebounding defense (28.5 allowed per game) and rebounding margin (+11.7). In the national statistics, the Falcons lead Division II in rebounding and are ranked second in three-point percentage defense, eighth in scoring defense and 10th in field goal defense.

MAKING THEIR MOVE?: After opening the 2014-15 conference season with a 3-9 record, Western Washington made a hard charge into the GNAC Tournament by winning their last eight regular season games before advancing to the tournament’s title game.

While their first half this season hasn’t been the struggle that it was a year ago, it looks as if the Vikings are preparing to make a similar run into this year’s GNAC Tournament. Western Washington is on a four-game win streak and enters the week tied for fifth with Alaska with an 8-4 GNAC record and a 14-7 overall mark.

Western Washington made it an easy start to the week, shooting 56.3 percent from the field and scored 61 second half points en route to a 104-60 in the second border battle with Simon Fraser. Blake Bowen came alive for the Vikings with 24 points on 9 of 12 from the field and 5 of 7 from three-point range.

The Vikings returned home on Thursday to post a 79-64 victory over Montana State Billings. Kyle Impero led WWU with 17 points as four Vikings scored in double figures.

The rest of the regular season schedule sets up well for the Vikings. They will play four of their final eight games at their home away from home of Whatcom CC, which includes hosting Alaska Anchorage and Alaska this week. Western Washington enters the week ranked second in the GNAC in scoring offense (86.8 points per game) and field goal percentage (.479) and leads the league in offensive rebounds (12.57 per game). The Vikings turn the ball over 10.9 times per game, 18th best in Division II.

ROAMING AWAY FROM THE PACK: While the rest of the teams in the top half of the GNAC standings beat up on each other to begin the second half of the season, Western Oregon continued to slowly pull away from the rest of the pack.

The Wolves extended their current win streak to nine games with a pair of home wins. They opened the week on Thursday by pulling past a solid challenge by Northwest Nazarene, making a 32-29 halftime lead hold for a 62-59 win. Western Oregon won despite one of the their poorest shooting performances of the season, connecting on 34.4 percent from the field and 13.6 percent from three-point range.

The shooting woes were gone by Saturday as the Wolves shot 57.9 percent from the field in an 85-68 win over Central Washington. After building to a nine-point halftime lead, WOU blistered the nets for 64.3 percent from the floor in the second period, including 4 for 8 from three-point range.

Senior Andy Avgi led Western Oregon offensively in both games. He scored 18 points on 8 of 16 from the field and had eight rebounds in Thursday’s win over Northwest Nazarene. He then went off for 27 points against Central Washington, making 11 of 19 from the field to go along with seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. He led five WOU players that scored in double figures.

Western Oregon enters the week leading the GNAC in steals (8.95 per game), tunrover margin (+5.15) and assist/turnover ratio (1.55) and is ranked second in scoring defense (67.6 points allowed per game), scoring margin (+11.5), three-point percentage (.381) and three-pointers made (8.70 per game). On the Division II list, Western Oregon is second in turnovers per game (9.4), fourth in winning percentage (.900), sixth in turnover margin, seventh in assist/turnover ratio and eighth in fewest turnovers (188). Individually, Julian Nichols is ranked third in Division II in assist/turnover ratio (3.81). Avgi is 25th in scoring (21.9 points per game) and Tanner Omlid is 25th in total steals (41).

AFTER ROUGH START, SAINTS’ ALIVE: There is nothing to change the ways of a team than a couple of big wins. After enduring a seven-game losing streak, including a string of six GNAC games, Saint Martin’s has come back to win two of their last three games.

The Saints snapped the losing streak on Jan. 23 when they posted a 77-60 road win at Montana State Billings. But the big win came on the road last Thursday as the Saints stunned Alaska Anchorage on their home floor, 73-70. Saint Martin’s came back from an eight-point deficit with 9:25 to go by outscoring the Seawolves 21-10 down the stretch. Fred Jorg led the Saints with 16 points, going 6 of 10 from the field to go along with five assists.

The momentum didn’t last despite shooting 49.1 percent from the field at Alaska on Saturday, falling to the Nanooks 85-77. The Saints were never out of the game. Tyler Copp led Saint Martin’s offensively with 19 points, connecting on 7 of 11 from the field and 4 of 6 from beyond the arc.

Despite their 3-9 GNAC record and 9-11 overall mark under first year head coach Alex Pribble, the Saints are keeping themselves competitive and relevant. Saint Martin’s enters the week ranked second in the GNAC free throw percentage (.745) and third in scoring defense (70.6 points allowed per game) and field goal percentage defense (.420). Copp leads the GNAC in free throw percentage (.900, 36-40), Jordan Kitchen is second in the league in blocks (2.00 per game) and Jorg is second in offensive rebounds (3.20 per game) and sixth in total rebounding (6.9 per game).

15 IN 30: Players in the GNAC continue to keep turning in high point-scoring total. To date, 12 different players have turned in 15 performances of 30 points or more. Central Washington’s Joseph Stroud joined the 30-point club on Jan. 23 with his 34-point performance against Western Washington. The Vikings’ Ricardo Maxwell joined the club the same night as he scored 31 against the Wildcats. Western Oregon’s Andy Avgi notched his such performance of the season on Jan. 21 against Alaska Anchorage with 31 points. The Seawolves’ Sekou Wiggs leads the GNAC with four 30-plus point performances this season. No GNAC athlete posted a 30-point performance last weekend.

IN THE NATIONAL POLLS: Western Oregon remained at No. 2 in this week’s D2SIDA Division II Media Poll, but moved up one spot to No. 3 in this week’s NABC Division II Rankings. Seattle Pacific, based on their weekend sweep of the Alaska schools, resurfaced on both polls for the first time in a month. The Falcons are No 19 in the NABC poll and No. 21 in the D2SIDA poll. Western Oregon leads the D2SIDA West Region Rankings for the eighth consecutive week while Seattle Pacific moved up two spots to No. 4. Alaska Anchorage slipped from seventh to ninth while Alaska remained at No. 10.

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES OF NOTE: The conference’s leading scorer, Sekou Wiggs, scored 16 points and had seven rebounds in Alaska Anchorage’s loss to Saint Martin’s on Thursday...Corey Hammell also scored 16 points in the loss, going 5 of 6 from the field...The Seawolves’ Spencer Svejcar scored 23 points on 8 of 13 from the field and 5 of 7 from three-point range in UAA’s loss to Seattle Pacific on Saturday...Joey Roppo led six Central Washington players who scored in double figures in Thursday’s 102-75 win at Concordia, scoring 29 points on 9 of 15 from the field and 7 of 7 from the free throw line...Gary Jacobs had 17 points for the Wildcats along with five rebounds on Saturday’s loss at Western Oregon...Concordia’s Drew Martin scored 22 points and went 7 of 13 from the field and 7 of 10 from the chairty stripe in Thursday’s loss to Central Washington...Riley Hawkin then led the Cavaliers with 17 points and had 12 rebounds in Concordia’s 72-70 win over Northwest Nazarene...Mike Wright led the Crusaders with 16 points and five rebounds in Thursday’s loss at Western Oregon...Detwon Rogers came up with 25 points and nine rebounds, shooting 5 of 6 from three-point range in Saturday’s NNU loss to Concordia...Emmanuel Johnson led Montana State BIllings with 25 points on 8 of 16 from the field in Thursday’s loss at Western Washington...In Saturday’s win at Simon Fraser, Preston Beverly led the Yellowjackets with 22 points and 12 rebounds while Marc Matthews had 20 points and five assists...Alaska’s Travante Williams scored 19 points and had seven rebounds, connecting on 7 of 7 from the free throw line in Thursday’s loss to Seattle Pacific. Williams then had 22 points and nine rebounds in Saturday’s win over Saint Martin’s...Almir Hadzisehovic also scored 22 points for the Nanooks on Saturday, going 9 of 11 from the field with four rebounds and three steals...Simon Fraser’s JJ Pankratz returned from injury to score 17 points and grab nine rebounds in the Clan’s loss on Saturday to Montana State Billings.

GNAC GAME OF THE WEEK ON ROOT SPORTS: Five GNAC Games of the Week will air on ROOT SPORTS this season will air this season, with the final regular season game coming up on Sat., Feb. 20. Brad Adam will once again provide the play-by-play descriptions while Francis Williams will serve as the color analyst.

The three men’s games join two women’s contests to air on ROOT SPORTS and seven GNAC contests that will be featured on television this season. In addition to the ROOT SPORTS schedule, the championship doubleheader of the GNAC’s postseason tournament on Sat., Mar. 5, will be carried live throughout the country as part of the Division II Basketball National Showcase on the American Sports Network. The men’s game tips off at 5:30 p.m. PST and will be followed by the women’s title game at 7:30 p.m. PST.

In all, the GNAC will be featured either regionally or nationally three times in January, twice in February and twice in March. The 2015-16 campaign marks the seventh consecutive season in which the GNAC will have a presence on ROOT SPORTS, the premier regional sports network in the Pacific Northwest, and the third consecutive year in which the conference has featured a “Game of the Week” series on the network.

“The GNAC is extremely pleased to continue our Game of the Week series on ROOT SPORTS,” said conference commissioner Dave Haglund. “This has been a successful and long-standing association and helps expose our great brand of basketball to fans in our conference footprint and beyond. And we are looking forward to featuring our conference tournament championship games on the DII basketball showcase and reaching an even wider audience for the GNAC.”

GNAC Men’s Basketball Games On ROOT SPORTS
Sat., Jan. 9: Saint Martin’s at Western Oregon, 9 p.m. (Pacific)
Sat., Jan. 23: Western Washington at Central Washington, 6 p.m. (Pacific)
Sat., Feb. 20: Montana State Billings at Seattle Pacific, 9 p.m. (Pacific)

For satellite subscribers, ROOT SPORTS can be found on DirecTV channel 687 and Dish Network channel 426.

GNAC PRESEASON POLL - WESTERN WASHINGTON PICKED TO WIN: For the second year in a row, Western Washington is picked as the team to beat by conference coaches in the annual Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll.

The Vikings received five of 11 first place votes and a total of 114 points, finishing just ahead of defending regular season champion Western Oregon. The Wolves netted four first place votes and a total of 106 points.

Seattle Pacific, who finished second in the conference last year and won the GNAC Tournament championship, is picked third with a total of 100 points. The Falcons received the remaining two first place votes.

After a successful start in their non-conference schedule, Western Washington stumbled to lose seven of their first 10 GNAC games. The Vikings rebounded to win eight straight to end the regular season, tying for fifth to claim a spot in the GNAC Tournament. The Vikings went on to beat Alaska Anchorage and Western Oregon to claim a spot in the tournament final, where they lost to Seattle Pacific. Western Washington finished the season with a 20-11 overall record.

PRESEASON ALL-GNAC TEAM, AVGI PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Western Oregon forward Andy Avgi, the defending GNAC Player of the Year, added another award to his preseason arsenal as he was selected by the league’s head coaches as the GNAC Preseason Player of the Year. The senior was a unanimous selection for the honor, receiving 10 first place votes in the balloting (coaches could not vote for their own players).

Avgi was one of eight unanimous selections to the squad and is the only player on the list to be selected for a third year in a row. Joining him as a repeat selection on the 15-man squad were Western Washington forward Jeffrey Parker, WWU guard Ricardo Maxwell, Alaska Anchorage guard Brian McGill and Alaska guard Joe Slocum.

Other unanimous selections to the team include Parker, Maxwell, McGill, Western Oregon guard Julian Nichols, Seattle Pacific forward Mitch Penner, Montana State Billings guard/forward Momir Gataric and Central Washington center Joseph Stroud.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS: The following GNAC players have been selected to all-tournament teams during the 2015-16 season:
GNAC/PacWest Crossover (Nov. 13-14, Fairbanks): Travante Williams, UAF (Most Valuable Player).
Seawolf Jamboree (Nov. 21-22, Anchorage): Sekou Wiggs, UAA (Most Outstanding Player); Bangaly Kaba, UAF; Travante Williams, UAF.
Sodexo Classic (Nov. 21-22, Seattle): Gary Jacobs, CWU (Most Valuable Player); Joseph Storud, CWU; Bryce Leavitt, SPU.
GCI Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 25-27, Anchorage): Sekou Wiggs, UAA.
Oak Harbor Freight Lines Classic (Dec. 11-12, Seattle): Mitch Penner, SPU (Most Valuable Player); Gilles Dierickx, SPU; Preston Beverly, MSUB.

Mitch Penner
Seattle Pacific
F • 6-5 • 215 • Sr. • Seattle, Wash.

Penner scored 53 points on 19 of 32 from the field and 5 of 10 from three-point range and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Falcons swept their opponents on the Alaska road trip. He scored his 1,000th career point in Thursday’s 79-69 win at Alaska, finishing with 29 points on 9 of 16 from the field to go along with five assists. In Saturday’s 74-71 win at Alaska Anchorage, Penner finished with 24 points while shooting 10 of 16 from the field to go along with six rebounds and four assists. Penner has played a key role in the Falcon’s current seven-game win streak.

Also Nominated: Andy Avgi (Western Oregon), Preston Beverly (Montana State Billings), Blake Bowen (Western Washington), Almir Hadzisehovic (Alaska), Fred Jorg (Saint Martin’s), Mike Wright (Northwest Nazarene).