Wildcat Women Are Champs After More Bowman Brilliance
The Central Washington women's basketball team celebrates with the GNAC Championships trophy after defeating Western Washington 57-46. Photo by Ron Smith.
The Central Washington women's basketball team celebrates with the GNAC Championships trophy after defeating Western Washington 57-46. Photo by Ron Smith.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

LACEY, Wash. – For the first time ever, Central Washington women’s basketball is on top of the GNAC.

The Wildcats won their first conference tournament title in program history with a 57-46 victory over top-seeded Western Washington in the finals of the GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships on Saturday at Marcus Pavilion.

After being one assist shy of a triple-double yesterday, tournament MVP Samantha Bowman set a GNAC Championships record with 23 rebounds while scoring 12 points. Kassidy Malcolm led the Wildcats with 14 points while Jenna Troy contributed a career-high 13.

Central Washington (23-5) receives the GNAC’s automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Championships. Western Washington (20-5) should be there as well, but will have to wait for Selection Sunday to be sure of its spot.

After each team beat the other on the road in their two regular season match-ups, CWU and WWU met for the third time on a neutral floor to decide the conference championship. It was the Vikings who got off to a hot start, racing to a 9-2 lead after a basket from guard Emma Duff.

Although Central closed with six straight points, Gracie Castenada hit her second three of the quarter to put the Vikings up 12-8. Western Washington appeared to be in control, but Troy beat the first-quarter buzzer with a three – Central’s first of the contest – to trim the lead to 14-13, and momentum began to swing the Wildcats’ way.

Troy excelled in the open space created by the presence of the Wildcats’ stars: the league’s top two scorers in Malcolm and Kizzah Maltezo and its leading rebounder in Bowman. The sophomore from Kenmore, Washington had open shots and hit them, going 5 of 8 from the floor including the three-pointer. Troy matched her previous career high of 11 points from this February in the first half alone.

In an anticipated match-up between the Wildcats’ top-scoring offense and the Vikings’ top-scoring defense, it was CWU’s defense that emerged as the unexpected standout. Central Washington outscored the Vikings 15-9 and 15-8 over the second and third quarters, building a lead as Western Washington couldn’t buy a bucket. When all was said and done, the Vikings shot 25 percent from the field and eight percent (2-25) from three-point range.

The main beneficiary of all those missed shots was Bowman. Already in possession of the conference’s all-time single-game rebounding record (29 boards against Concordia Irvine on December 18) and the GNAC’s single-season rebounding record (438 and counting this season), Bowman added the single-game tournament record to her resume on the conference’s biggest stage.

With Western Washington unable to keep pace with Central offensively after the first quarter, the game turned into Bowman milestone watch. It took the junior center just 12 minutes to reach 10 rebounds, and Bowman had pulled down 14 boards at halftime, already threatening the old tournament record of 17. Bowman eclipsed the record with her 18th rebound with 6:22 left in the third quarter, got her 24th double-double of the season on a layup with 4:46 to go in the third and pulled down her 20th rebound with 7:54 left in the game, going over that barrier for the fourth time this season.

The Vikings threatened at the start of the fourth quarter, with a Brooke Walling layup completing a 6-0 WWU run at the start of the period that cut the lead to six at 43-37 and forced a Wildcats timeout. A back-breaking moment occurred seconds later, however, when Duff picked up her third and fourth fouls of the game in the span of 15 seconds and was forced to the bench. Duff finished with 14 points and fouled out of the game with 50 seconds to go. Walling ended as the Vikings’ leading scorer with 18 points, plus seven boards.

The lead stayed near six until two minutes to play, when Maltezo hit a dagger three after starting the game 1 of 12 from the floor. Maltezo earned the game’s final four points from the free-throw line and later dribbled out the clock before hoisting the ball in the air at the buzzer to celebrate with her teammates.