Westerns Hope Northern Trip Nets GNAC Championship
GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Malik Morgan of WOU and First Team All-GNAC forward Daulton Hommes of WWU hope to battle it out for the GNAC championship on Saturday.
GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Malik Morgan of WOU and First Team All-GNAC forward Daulton Hommes of WWU hope to battle it out for the GNAC championship on Saturday.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The teams from Monmouth and Bellingham hope that western influence will prevail in the great white north as Western Oregon and Western Washington are the top two seeds in the 2018 GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships, which begin Thursday at the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Alaska Airlines Center.

The Wolves are the No. 1 seed in this year’s championships after winning their third regular season title in the last four years. The tournament champion in 2016, Western Oregon enters the postseason at 27-1 overall (19-1 GNAC) and is one of three teams in Division II with 27 or more wins. The Vikings are the No. 2 seed and enter the tournament at 21-7 overall (16-4 GNAC). Western Washington is the defending champion and beat the Wolves in last year’s final, 71-69.

Western Oregon, picked to finish second in the GNAC Preseason Coaches Poll, used a balanced team approach to claim the regular season trophy. Despite not having a standout scorer, WOU leads the GNAC in scoring at 84.3 points per game and a .505 field goal percentage. The Wolves boast five players who are averaging over nine points per game, led by the 13.5 points per game of senior forward Tanner Omlid and the 11.7 points per game of senior guard Ali Faruq-Bey.

It is the defense that has allowed WOU to enter the GNAC Championships on a 20-game win streak. The Wolves are limiting opponents to 67.2 points per game and leads the league in steals (9.6 per game), turnover margin (+3.89) and assist/turnover ratio (1.4). Omlid leads the GNAC with 2.6 steals per game and ranks second with 1.9 blocks per contest. During the 20-game win streak, WOU has held opponents to 60 points or less eight times.

Western Washington handed Western Oregon its only defeat of the season, 85-58, in Bellingham back on Dec. 2. The Vikings are much the equals to the Wolves on both ends of the floor. Second to WOU in scoring at 84 points per game, the Vikings lead the GNAC in free throw percentage (.780), rebounding (39.5 per game) and blocked shots (6.0 per game) and are second in field goal percentage (.496) and scoring margin (+10.2).

Sophomore Daulton Hommes leads WWU on the offensive end of the floor, entering the tournament second in the GNAC in scoring at 18.3 points per game while shooting 54.6 percent from the floor. Hommes also leads the GNAC with a .884 free throw percentage. Junior guard Trey Drechsel is ninth in the GNAC in scoring at 15.2 points per game and sixth with 7.2 rebounds per game. Senior forward Deandre Dickson gives WWU three double-digit scorers as he averages 13.9 points per contest.

Western Oregon will face the winner of Thursday’s first quarterfinal between No. 4 seed Seattle Pacific and No. 5 seed Alaska Anchorage. After missing the postseason in 2017 for the first time in GNAC Championships history, the Falcons enter the tournament with a 16-11 overall record and an 11-9 GNAC mark. The Falcons are third in the GNAC in scoring, averaging 80.6 points per game, and is second in three-point shooting at 38.9 percent.

The Falcons played much of the GNAC season without 2017 Freshman of the Year and top-scorer Tony Miller, whose season was limited to 12 games due to injury. Sophomore guard Gavin Long and senior guard Coleman Wooten have picked up much of that scoring load. Long has averaged 12.3 points per game and is among the league leaders in free throw percentage (.817). Wooten is averaging 11.3 points per game and is among the GNAC leaders in field goal shooting at 55.1 percent.

After losing all but one player off last year’s team, Alaska Anchorage (15-13, 11-9 GNAC) faced an uphill battle to make its eighth consecutive GNAC Championships. The Seawolves were further hampered by the midseason loss of their leading scorer and rebounder, Jacob Lampkin, but succeeded in scraping together wins in five of their last six games to secure a spot in the tournament in their home arena.

While last in the GNAC in scoring at 62 points per game, UAA is among the Division II leaders with 62.5 points allowed per game, leads the GNAC with a .419 field goal percentage defense and a .336 three-point percentage defense. The Seawolves have held teams to less than 60 points in nine of their 15 wins. Senior transfer guard DJ Ursery leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 11.6 points and six rebounds per game, while junior guard Malik Clements is averaging 8.5 points per game.

Western Washington, meanwhile, will face the winner of the opening quarterfinal game between No. 3 seed Saint Martin’s and No. 6 seed Central Washington. The Saints have their first 20-win season in a decade, entering the championships with a 22-6 record, and finished the GNAC season at 15-5. Saint Martin’s is the top three-point shooting team in the field, at 39.4 percent, and averages 79.6 points per game.

Junior transfer guard Luke Chavez has been an impact player all season for the Saints. He finished the regular season tied for sixth in the GNAC in scoring at 16 points per game and is third in the league in both assists (4.1 per game) and steals (1.9 per game). Junior guard EJ Boyce is averaging 11.5 points per game and leads the GNAC with 3.1 three-pointers made per game. Senior forward Matt Dahlen is shooting 59.6 percent from the field, fourth in the conference.

The Wildcats made the tournament thanks to a stretch of six wins in seven games through January and February, but lost their final three games of the regular season. Central’s successes have come on the defensive end as the Wildcats rank second in the GNAC in rebounding (37.9 per game) and blocked shots  (4.6 per game) while averaging 78.4 points per game.

Freshman guard Khalil Shabazz has the led the way for the Wildcats. The team’s leading scorer is 10th in the league at 15 points per game and is second in the GNAC in steals (2.2 per game). Senior center Fuquan Niles is the leading rebounder in the tournament, averaging 7.6 boards per game, and is also among the Division II national leaders with 2.6 blocks per contest. Senior guard Jawan Stepney is averaging 13.4 points per game while reserve senior guard Sage Woodruff is averaging 10.4 points per contest.