Vikings Advance To Semis Despite Saints Push
Western Washington used their height and health advantages inside to outrebound Saint Martin's 45-33 in a GNAC Championships quarterfinal match-up. Photo by Ron Smith.
Western Washington used their height and health advantages inside to outrebound Saint Martin's 45-33 in a GNAC Championships quarterfinal match-up. Photo by Ron Smith.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

LACEY, Wash. – Top-seeded Western Washington got all they could handle from host school Saint Martin’s, but the Vikings made plays down the stretch to defeat the No. 9 Saints 60-54 in the quarterfinals of the GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships from Marcus Pavilion.

Guard Emma Duff scored 14 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter and added nine rebounds to help close out the Saints, who went into halftime tied and never truly went away in front of their home fans.

Western Washington (19-4) advances to the semifinals against No. 5 Montana State Billings. Saint Martin’s finishes its season at 13-14.

Western Washington kept their tournament hopes alive by keeping possessions alive. The Vikings out-rebounded SMU 45-33, which included 16 offensive boards, and outscored the Saints in second chance possessions 12-2 for the game. Forward Brooke Walling had five of those offensive rebounds among her 10 points and nine rebounds on the night.

The Vikings came out on fire, hitting three three-pointers in the span of a minute and a half to take a 15-4 lead. Saint Martin’s immediately made it a game in the second quarter, scoring the first seven points of the period on two layups from Tierney DeDonatis and a layup and a free throw from Josie Matz.

The Saints scored seven points in the final four seconds of the first half in a crucial sequence. With WWU up 27-20, Matz hit two free throws before Western Washington was called for a technical foul under the basket. That gave Saint Martin’s two more free throws, which Claire Dingus hit, plus the ball. On the ensuing inbounds play, Rian Clear hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the home crowd into a frenzy and the teams to the locker room tied at 27.

The Vikings edged ahead in the third quarter by feeding Walling, who recorded five points and six rebounds in the period. A short-handed Saints team facing injuries to several post players were down to center Laia Currius, who hadn’t played more than 15 minutes in five games this season, and Chenoa Louie, who herself was just coming back from an injury that sidelined her for most of February.

Although the Saints had eight steals in the game, the Vikings’ ball movement gradually picked apart SMU’s opportunistic defense in the second half, and Duff took over in the fourth. Western Washington had an 8-2 run to start the fourth with four points apiece from Duff and Katrina Giammaka. All the baskets were either layups or from the line after being fouled in the paint, and it opened up WWU’s largest lead of the night at 48-37.

Saint Martin’s had one more punch in them, going on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to three, but Duff took advantage of the collapsing Saints defense and hit three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to stretch it to 54-45 with 3:32 to play.

The match-up between Western Washington and Montana State Billings is an unknown quantity this season, as a combination of travel issues and COVID-19 postponements meant the two teams did not play during the regular season. The semifinal match-up will tip off at 2:15 p.m. at Marcus Pavilion on Friday.