Vikings Reach Regional Finals With Fourth-Quarter Comeback
Emma Duff (right) recorded a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double and scored six points during WWU's fourth-quarter comeback in their 64-58 regional semifinal win. Photo by Marcus Smith.
Emma Duff (right) recorded a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double and scored six points during WWU's fourth-quarter comeback in their 64-58 regional semifinal win. Photo by Marcus Smith.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

HAYWARD, Calif. – In the fourth meeting of the season between the two teams, Western Washington and Central Washington may have thought they had each other all figured out. Staring at a seven-point deficit after three quarters with the season on the line, however, Western Washington found one more rabbit to pull out of the hat.

The Vikings outscored Central Washington 21-8 in the fourth quarter, stunning the Wildcats for a 64-58 victory in the NCAA West Regional semifinals at Pioneer Gym in Hayward, California.

The Vikings, who won the GNAC regular-season championship, and the Wildcats, who won the conference tournament, split their four match-ups this season, but it will be Western Washington who advances to the NCAA West Regional finals.

The Vikings (22-5) will face the winner of the other regional semifinal between No. 1 seed, CCAA champion and regional host Cal State East Bay and No. 5 seed and PacWest champion Azusa Pacific. That game will take place on Monday at 7 p.m.

For the Wildcats, a tremendous season in which they earned the first conference tournament and NCAA regional wins in program history comes to an end at 24-8.

Brooke Walling has been playing her best stretch of basketball in the postseason. She continued that trend by leading all scorers with 19 points. Emma Duff had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds while Riley Dykstra grabbed 10 boards and scored five of her seven points in the fourth quarter.

On Central Washington’s side, the two seniors on the Wildcats’ roster were their leading scorers. Forward Kassidy Malcolm had 17 points, going an efficient 7 of 11 from the floor and adding seven rebounds. Guard Kizzah Maltezo finished with 14 points, but the GNAC’s leader in scoring and made three-pointers only went 1 of 8 from beyond the arc. Samantha Bowman finished with a double-double of 12 points and 15 rebounds but considering Bowman was averaging 16.2 points and 15.9 rebounds per game and put up 24 of each in the first-round win over Northwest Nazarene, that counts as containing the junior center for the Vikings.

Throughout the game, each team took turns taking control a quarter at a time. The Wildcats got off to a hot start, with Malcolm hitting a three-point shot and a three-point play among her eight first-quarter points to help CWU to a 22-14 lead after eight minutes. The Vikings closed the gap in the second quarter, however, getting two triples from Maddy Grandbois, another three from Mollie Olson and a layup from Truitt Reilly to beat the halftime buzzer to send the Vikings to the locker room down by one, 35-34.

Central Washington again took the upper hand after the halftime break. The Wildcats’ defense held WWU to nine points in the quarter on 4 of 17 shooting, while Maltezo heated up with seven points, including her only three of the game, while Valerie Huerta also hit both a three-ball and a jump shot to extend the Wildcat lead to seven. Central Washington held a 50-43 advantage after 30 minutes of play and stood 10 minutes away from a trip to the regional finals.

But the Vikings defense, which leads the GNAC and ranks 14th in Division II by holding opponents to 34.7 percent shooting for the season, picked a perfect time to have a perfect quarter. The Wildcats shot 3 of 19 from the field during the final period and missed 15 of their first 16 field goal attempts of the fourth quarter and all eight of their three-point attempts.

In the meantime, the Vikings' offense started rolling, scoring the first 10 points of the period. After a Duff layup, Walling scored three consecutive buckets on assists from Avery Dykstra (twice) and Olson. Walling was fouled on the third basket, which gave Western Washington the lead, and she went to the line for a potential three-point play.

The free throw missed, but Duff was the first to react, grabbing the offense rebound and resetting the offense before pulling up herself and draining a jump shot to put the Vikings up 53-50. Central soon tied it after Maltezo hit one of two from the line and Malcolm broke the field goal drought with a layup, but Western Washington was firing on all cylinders by that point, picking apart Central’s defense with passes to get easy looks inside.

The Vikings scored eight field goals in the fourth quarter, and seven were off assists while five came in the paint. Aside from Walling (eight points) and Duff (six points), Riley Dykstra came up huge late with five points and three rebounds in the final period, including the game-icing free-throws.

If Azusa Pacific can spring the upset on No. 1 Cal State East Bay, the Vikings previously beat APU 73-57 on Nov. 19 in a neutral-site clash in San Marcos, California. The Vikings have not played Cal State East Bay this season, but one of CSUEB’s only two losses on the year came to Central Washington on Nov. 13.