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Vikings Punch Ticket To Birmingham, Elite Eight
Western Washington women's basketball won its third regional championship with a 73-59 victory over Cal State East Bay.
Western Washington women's basketball won its third regional championship with a 73-59 victory over Cal State East Bay.

Monday, March 14, 2022

HAYWARD, Calif. – The Western Washington Vikings are one of the last eight teams standing in Division II women’s basketball.

Undeterred by a true road game against No. 1 seed Cal State East Bay in the regional finals, the Vikings got a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double from Emma Duff, 16 points and eight rebounds from Brooke Walling and led for the final 35 minutes of the game to knock off the top-seeded Pioneers 73-59 and win the West Regional title at Pioneer Gym.

Walling earned tournament MVP honors after averaging 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds over Western Washington’s three games at the regional. Aside from tonight’s performance, Walling had a 17-point, 17-rebound double-double in WWU’s opening-round win over Alaska Anchorage and a career-high 19 points in the semifinal win over Central Washington. Duff and Central Washington’s Samantha Bowman were also named to the all-tournament team, along with Cal State East Bay’s Madison Schiller and Azusa Pacific’s Paige Uyehara.

It is the third regional championship for Western Washington (23-5), which previously won in 2000 and 2013. The Vikings are now headed to Birmingham, Alabama for the Elite Eight, which starts on Monday, March 21.

Cal State East Bay had a dominant season. The CCAA champions were 24-2 but in uncharted territory playing in their first regional final in program history. The experienced Vikings were ready for the moment.

After see-sawing back and forth with the first few buckets of the game, Cal State East Bay took a 10-7 lead on a layup from Taylor Linzie. As it turned out, that would be the largest lead of the game for the Pioneers. Walling hit a three-pointer to tie the score with 5:25 left in the first quarter. The Vikings scored eight of the next 10 points, including two baskets from junior guard Mollie Olson, and ended the first quarter with an 18-14 lead.

The Vikings put some distance between themselves and the home team by outscoring the Pioneers 22-13 in the second quarter. Walling hit another three-ball, converting on her only two attempts of the game from distance. The difference was getting to the free-throw line, as WWU went a perfect 9 for 9 from the stripe in the second period while CSUEB went 2 for 2. Four of those free-throws came from Duff, who scored the Vikings’ final six points of the half while adding five rebounds in the second quarter alone.

Western Washington’s lead stayed in double-digits throughout most of the third quarter. When the Pioneers cut the deficit to under 10 for the first time in the second half on a jumper from Madison Schiller that made it 50-41, junior forward Katrina Gimmaka answered for the Vikings, scoring five of her nine points for the game in the final 2:30 of the third quarter to send WWU into the final period with a 54-43 advantage.

The Vikings played clean, fundamental basketball and made fewer mistakes than their opponent to ensure there would be little to no drama in the fourth quarter. Western Washington committed seven of their 13 turnovers in the second half but forced 12 of CSUEB’s 14 after the break.

While the Pioneers struggled from the free-throw line, making 14 of 21 for a 67 percent performance, the Vikings hit 25 of 29 from the stripe. Duff led the way by going a perfect 10 for 10, including 6 for 6 in the final quarter, which provided a large chunk of the eight points Duff scored in the final 10 minutes. The All-GNAC and All-West Region selection set a season-high with her 14 rebounds and a career-high with her 10 free throws and attempts.

The Pioneers never cut the lead to less than eight points, and the Vikings’ advantage stretched to a game-high 17 with 25 seconds left before Cal State East Bay made a couple of garbage-time baskets. Duff hit two free throws with nine seconds left for the final points of the evening and sprinted into the arms of her teammates at midcourt when the final buzzer sounded.

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