Home ‘Cats, Repeat Champion Viks Take Team of the Week
Central Washington became just the second team, men's or women's, to win a GNAC Championships title on its home court with a 78-69 victory over Alaska Anchorage on Saturday. | Photo by Jacob Thompson
Central Washington became just the second team, men's or women's, to win a GNAC Championships title on its home court with a 78-69 victory over Alaska Anchorage on Saturday. | Photo by Jacob Thompson

Monday, March 11, 2024
by Thomas Lal

PORTLAND, Ore. –  After winning the GNAC Basketball Championships in Ellensburg on Saturday, the Central Washington men’s basketball team and the Western Washington women’s basketball team have been named GNAC Teams of the Week.

Central Washington played the most basketball possible in the tournament in front of its home fans, playing in all three days of the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships. The No. 4 seeded Wildcats opened their week with a 90-76 win over No. 5 seed Seattle Pacific in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Central Washington was led by GNAC Championships MVP Samaad Hector in the win as he racked up 24 points, eight rebounds, an assist and a block while shooting 50% from three-point range. Hector was backed up by 17 points from freshman forward Maverick Sanders as he shot 80% from the field and also picked up four rebounds.

Thursday’s semifinal win set the stage for a matchup with No. 1 seed Montana State Billings after the Yellowjackets won the regular season championship and handed CWU a pair of losses during the conference slate. Heading into Friday’s semifinal, the ‘Jackets were the only team to hand the Wildcats a loss on their home court. Central Washington made sure that didn’t happen again though, claiming an 81-80 victory over the Yellowjackets courtesy of a game-winning three-pointer by Hector with just three seconds left on the clock.

Hector’s heroic shot came in a game where the Wildcats led for just 24 seconds as they stunned the ‘Jackets. It was a total team performance from Central Washington as five players all reached double-digit points. Freshman guard Jordan Clark picked up a team-high 18 points in 29 minutes on the floor to go along with three offensive rebounds. Hector’s game-winning three-pointer put him at 15 for the night as he also notched nine boards, two steals, a block and an assist. Freshman guard Bradley Swille notched 10 points to make it four out of five starting players with 10 or more points while senior guard Camron McNeil tallied 13 points, five rebounds and a steal in 25 minutes off the bench.

Central Washington’s semifinal victory over the Yellowjackets set up a Saturday final against No. 6 seed Alaska Anchorage after the Seawolves knocked off No. 3 seed Saint Martin’s on Thursday and No. 2 seed Northwest Nazarene on Friday. With Nicholson Pavilion rocking with an official attendance of 2,500 people, Central Washington claimed its second GNAC Championships title in program history with a complete 78-69 victory over UAA.

Every player to take the floor for the Wildcats scored at least one point in the title-winning game as the team was led by Hector once again. The senior forward from Brooklyn, New York, made his case for tournament MVP undisputable as he notched a double-double of 22 points and 14 rebounds to lead his team to victory. Hector also picked up an assist, a steal and a block en route to earning MVP honors. McNeil followed Hector with 14 points while shooting 80% from the field while senior guard Anjaylo Lloyd picked up 12. As a team, the Wildcats shot 51.9% from the field and 81.8% from the free throw line while holding the Seawolves to 47.3% from the field.

With the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in hand, Central Washington (21-9, 11-7 GNAC) will head to the NCAA West Region Championships as the No. 5 seed and will face No. 4 seed Cal State Dominguez Hills at 7:30 p.m (PST) on Friday, March 15 in Los Angeles.

Western Washington won its second GNAC Championship in as many years on Saturday, defeating No. 1 seed Montana State Billings 54-52 in the final. On the way to the final, the No. 2 seed Vikings took a 75-60 win over No. 3 seed Alaska Anchorage in their semifinal on Saturday. The GNAC Championships title is the fourth in program history for Western Washington while it has now made 10 of the 13 finals since the tournament’s inception in 2011.

The Vikings were led by junior guard Riley Dykstra in Thursday’s semifinal win as the Everson, Wash., native knocked down a tournament-record eight three-pointers and also shot a tournament-record 88.9% from beyond the three-point arc. Dykstra eclipsed her previous career-high in three-pointers made with seven in the first half alone and went on to finish the night with a game-high 24 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal. Senior forward Brooke Walling flirted with her own piece of tournament history as she nearly notched the first triple double of the GNAC Championships with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against the Seawolves.

Walling did make her mark on the history books after the conclusion of Saturday’s win over Montana State Billings, however, as she became just the second player in tournament history to be named the GNAC Championships MVP for a second time. She finished Saturday’s final as one of WWU’s top-scoring players with 17 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal. Sophomore guard Mason Oberg also notched 17 points in the final win, including three key three-pointers that all provided critical momentum swings for the Vikings. Oberg’s first trey of the night gave WWU its first lead of the game in the first quarter while her second and third sparked the final lead change in the game in the fourth quarter.

With the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Championships in hand, Western Washington (23-6, 14-4) will head to the NCAA West Region Championships as the No. 3 seed and will face No. 6 seed Cal Poly Pomona on Friday, March 15 at Noon in Azusa, Calif.