Wildcats Survive Upset Bid To Edge Past NNU
Valerie Huerta (right) and Central Washington did just enough to defeat Northwest Nazarene, topping the Nighthawks 79-74 in the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Marcus Smith.
Valerie Huerta (right) and Central Washington did just enough to defeat Northwest Nazarene, topping the Nighthawks 79-74 in the NCAA Tournament. Photo by Marcus Smith.

Friday, March 11, 2022

HAYWARD, Calif. – Northwest Nazarene has been upset-minded before this season, defeating Western Washington twice, Central Washington once and twice losing by five points or less to Alaska Anchorage.

The seventh-seeded Nighthawks were at it again, putting a scare into one of the region’s most talented teams in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball West Regional at Cal State East Bay’s Pioneer Gym.

But No. 2 Central Washington was up to the task as the Wildcats simply have too many stars to drop a game easily. Center and GNAC Championships MVP Samantha Bowman had 24 points and 24 rebounds, Kizzah Maltezo recorded 21 points and hit five three-pointers and Central Washington defeated Northwest Nazarene in overtime, 79-74, in a game that seemed up in the air from tip-off to the final whistle.

The Wildcats (24-7) built their winning streak to six games after winning the GNAC Championships last week. They will advance to the regional semifinals against Western Washington, the team they beat to win that conference title. After dropping its first games at both the GNAC Championships and NCAA Tournament, a promising Northwest Nazarene season will come to an end at 18-10.

Erin Jenkins shone in the loss for NNU, recording a season-high 25 points to lead all scorers. Jenkins shot 11 of 18 from the field and added seven rebounds, four assists and a steal for good measure. Three other Nighthawks scored in double figures: freshman forward Teagan Thurman (12 pts., 6-13 shooting), center Clare Eubanks (10 pts., six rebounds) and guard Emma Clark (10 pts., 4-5 shooting).

The game was close throughout. Central Washington’s largest lead of the game was the final margin, while NNU’s largest lead of eight came midway through the second quarter. Although Bowman was grabbing rebounds left and right, Northwest Nazarene attacked anybody else down low that they could, outscoring CWU in the paint 46-28.

The Nighthawks actually outshot the Wildcats from the field, with NNU making 34 of 78 attempts for 44 percent while CWU only hit 28 of 74 for 38 percent. The difference came from behind the arc. Northwest Nazarene barely tried shooting from deep until the fourth, only making 3 of 16 for a 19 percent shooting performance from distance. Central Washington, on the other hand, hit 11 of 36 for a 31 percent mark, maximizing the amount of points from its shots.

The two teams were tied heading into the fourth quarter and continued to see-saw during the final period. Valerie Huerta hit a three to put Central up 60-58 with 2:22 to play before Jenkins, Maltezo and Thurman went up and down the court to all score field goals in the span of 25 seconds, knotting the score at 62-62 with just over a minute left.

GNAC Player of the Year Kassidy Malcolm, who finished with 11 points, made a tough bucket in the paint to give CWU a two-point lead. The ensuing possession saw NNU get three offensive rebounds before giving it back to Central Washington with a traveling violation with 18 seconds left. All the Wildcats had to do was inbound the ball and make free throws and the game would be sewn up.

A battle-tested Nighthawks team didn’t make things so easy, forcing a five-second violation and tying the game five seconds later on a Thurman layup. Northwest Nazarene actually had a chance to win when CWU committed another turnover trying to get the ball past halfcourt, but Thurman’s turnaround jumper at the buzzer was long.

Early in overtime, it seemed NNU had the upper hand. Nyalam Thabach collected six of the Nighthawks’ first eight points in OT and NNU found themselves up by four, 72-68 with two and a half minutes to go.

Then Bowman went to work. She grabbed an offensive rebound, her 21st of the game, and got the putback bucket to give herself 20 points and her fourth 20/20 game of the season. After a defensive stop, Bowman dished to Tori Maeda, who calmly knocked down a massive three-pointer, her only points of the game, to give Central a 73-72 lead.

Bowman then converted another second-chance bucket to give Central the lead for good at 75-74, and after Maltezo hit two free-throws, it was fittingly Bowman who hit the final two foul shots of the game with half a second on the clock to reach the final margin and ensure the center finished even in points and rebounds with 24 apiece.

No. 2 Central Washington will take on No. 3 Western Washington in the regional semifinals Saturday at 5 p.m. The Wildcats have taken two out of three from the Vikings this year, including a 57-46 victory in the GNAC Championships final on March 5.