Wildcats Hold Off Wolves To Advance To Men's Final
Matt Poquette led Central Washington with 14 points and made 7 of 12 from the field. Photo by Ron Smith.
Matt Poquette led Central Washington with 14 points and made 7 of 12 from the field. Photo by Ron Smith.

Friday, March 4, 2022

LACEY, Wash. – Central Washington survived a late run by Western Oregon to secure its place in the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships final, holding off the Wolves 65-64 in the semifinals Friday at Marcus Pavilion.

The Wildcats had a 13-point lead with 4:55 left in the second half, but the Wolves proceeded to go on an 11-2 run to end the game and set the table for another potential buzzer-beating win. Junior guard Cameron Cranston had a look at the game-winning three-pointer with a second left, but the ball rimmed off as time expired.

Junior forward Matt Poquette led the Wildcats with 14 points and seven rebounds, connecting on 7 of 12 from the field on a night where CWU shot 43.5 percent. Senior guard Xavier Smith scored 13 points. Senior guard David Thompson and freshman guard Colby Gennett each scored 12.

Senior guard Tyreek Price led Western Oregon with 19 points on 7 of 12 from the field. Cranston connected for 17 points and eight rebounds with junior guard Daisone Hughes adding 11.

With the win, the No. 5 seeded Wildcats (17-8) will face No. 10 seed Alaska in the championship game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Western Oregon, which was seeded ninth, ends the season with a 9-18 overall record.

In a tournament that has seen the lower seeds set the pace early, Central Washington opened the game as the pacesetter. The Wildcats pulled out to the 7-2 lead on Thompson’s jumper two-and-a-half minutes into the game and extended the advantage to 12-4 when senior guard Amari Stafford hit three free throws at the 15:35 mark.

Western Oregon used a six-point run to bring the game within 20-17 on sophomore guard Collin Warmouth’s jumper with 8:24 to go, but the Wildcats responded with a 9-4 run of their own and went back up eight on Smith’s turnaround jumper with 4:30 left. Central Washington extended the lead to 10 points on Poquette’s lay-in with 1:13 left and the advantage held as the Wildcats took the 37-27 lead into the break.

The Wildcats kept the offensive pressure on in the second half, building their biggest lead of 52-38 on Smith’s jumper with 11:29 to go. The Wolves cut the deficit to 54-48 on Hughes’ free throws at the 8:11 mark, but the Wildcats bounced back and took a 13-point lead, 63-50, when Poquette connected on a lay-in with 4:55 remaining.

Western Oregon made it a game late, going on an 11-2 run to end the game. Junior forward John Morrill-Keeler cut the deficit to four points on his dunk with 1:37 left and Cranston cut it to three on his three-pointer with 56 seconds left. Hughes forced a steal and junior guard Yosani Clay converted on the fastbreak lay-in to make it a 65-64 game with 21 seconds left.

The final two possessions made for some more dramatic moments in a tournament filled with them. With two fouls to give, WOU committed three fouls in an attempt to get CWU to the line and regain possession. The Wolves finally drew their seventh foul with 12 seconds to go and Smith missed the front end of the one-and-one.

Western Oregon quickly moved the ball down the floor and into the hands of Cranston, who hit the game-winning three-pointer against No. 1 seed Saint Martin’s the night before. This time, however, the shot would not fall.