Western Washington's Run Ends In Title Game
Brooke Walling scored 27 points, setting or tying her career scoring high for the fourth time this postseason. Photo by Michael Wade.
Brooke Walling scored 27 points, setting or tying her career scoring high for the fourth time this postseason. Photo by Michael Wade.

Friday, March 25, 2022

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After a remarkable season that included 25 wins, a GNAC regular-season championship, a West Region title and two wins over higher seeds in the Elite Eight, Western Washington’s run through the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championships came to an end Friday night with an 85-72 loss to Glenville State.

Despite tremendous individual performances from their two March stars Brooke Walling (career-high 27 points, 12 rebounds) and Emma Duff (17 points, nine rebounds), the Vikings ultimately couldn’t keep up with Glenville State’s defensive press and record-breaking offense.

Western Washington shot 55 percent from the field, out-rebounded the Pioneers 45-39 and led by two at halftime, but turnovers killed the Vikings’ chances. Glenville State forced 16 steals amongst 25 total turnovers for WWU, and the Pioneers’ potent offense converted them into buckets, scoring 30 points off turnovers to the Vikings’ four.

The Vikings (25-6) still became the first WWU women’s basketball team to make a national championship game after reaching the third Elite Eight in program history. Glenville State (35-1) completed a dominant season with the school’s first national title in any sport.

The Pioneers rolled into the title game with a unique, high-octane brand of basketball. The Pioneers entered averaging 95.8 points per game, 13.5 more points than any other Division II team, alongside a constant full-court double press that forced the fourth-most steals per game (14.4) in Division II. Glenville State went a perfect 22-0 in Mountain East Conference play and cruised in their first two Elite Eight games, defeating West Texas A&M 103-56 in the quarterfinals and Grand Valley State 77-53 in the semifinals.

Western Washington didn’t circle the wagons, however, choosing to match the Pioneers’ tempo and resulting in a first-half offensive explosion.

The Vikings made 20 of their 32 field goal attempts in the first half. Western Washington jumped out to a 5-0 lead out of the gate with a Gracie Castaneda three and a Walling layup. They pushed the lead back up to five halfway through the first quarter when after an initial WWU attempt was blocked, Walling grabbed the loose ball for an offensive rebound and dished to Katrina Gimmaka for two.

Glenville State rallied behind Zakiyah Winfield. The guard buried two free throws to give the Pioneers their first lead at 18-17, then hit a layup with six seconds left in the first quarter to put Glenville State on top 20-19 at the first interval. In the second, Winfield picked up where she left off, completing a personal 9-0 run with a floater and a three to put GSU up 25-19.

Displaying their championship pedigree, the Vikings countered with an 11-0 run of their own, and like it so often has been in the postseason, it all came from Duff and Walling. After a missed three, Duff grabbed an offensive rebound and got the putback with a foul. Duff missed the and-one free-throw, but Gimmaka got the rebound and the Vikings worked it around to Walling, who converted a layup for two more. Walling hit a mid-range jumper on WWU’s next possession before Duff found her shooting stroke, draining a fastbreak layup and deep three-pointer from the right side in quick succession for Western Washington’s fifth consecutive made field goal, forcing a Glenville State timeout.

Walling had a special first half, with her 17 points just two short of her previous career-high which she set in the West Regional final against Cal State East Bay. Her final two points of the half gave Western Washington its largest lead of the game at 44-37 with 2:19 left in the first half. Although GSU went on a 7-0 run to erase that lead, the Vikings retook it when Mollie Olson banked in a smooth pirouetting layup to make it 46-44 heading into halftime.

But the second half was just all Glenville State. The Pioneers never lowered the intensity and ferocity of their full-court press, and Western Washington began to look fatigued as the second half went on. The Vikings had 14 of their 25 turnovers in the second half, and even when they beat GSU’s press, heavy legs made it harder and harder for shots to fall. Western Washington made 43 percent of their field-goal attempts in the second half, compared to 63 percent in the first, and did not hit a three-pointer after halftime.

Meanwhile, Glenville State had another gear. The Pioneers progressively improved their field-goal percentage in each of the game’s four quarters, ending with an 8 for 15 showing in the final period. The Pioneers outscored WWU 41-26 in the second half, including 18-10 in the fourth quarter, and outscored the Vikings on 17-2 on turnovers after halftime as the game’s track-meet style tipped the contest further and further in GSU’s favor.

Re’Shawna Stone, a D2SIDA First-Team All-American, led Glenville State with 25 points and five steals. Winfield ended with 23 points and seven rebounds while Dazha Congleton had 11 points and nine boards for the Pioneers.

Despite Stone’s accolades, Walling may have been the best player on the floor Friday. The sophomore center went 12 of 16 from the field and 3 of 3 at the line. Her 27 points and 12 rebounds gave Walling her fifth double-double of the season, three of which came in the postseason, and she eclipsed her previous career-high of 19 points just one minute into the second half.

Walling’s performance completes a postseason run in which the Vancouver, Washington native elevated her play to new heights seemingly every time she stepped on the floor. In nine postseason games between the GNAC Championships, NCAA West Regional and NCAA Elite Eight, Walling averaged 17.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, a significant uptick from her still-solid season averages of 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. She set or tied her career scoring high on four separate occasions during the postseason, and also set a career-high with 17 rebounds in a first-round NCAA tournament win over Alaska Anchorage.

Walling was named to the Elite Eight All-Tournament Team after averaging 20 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games in Birmingham. She was joined on the team by Duff, who averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game from the national quarterfinals onward. In the last game of her Vikings career, Duff broke into the top 10 in Western Washington school history with 1,346 career points.