Madness Begins In Lacey With GNAC Championships
Emma Logan played in 13 games for No. 4 seed Northwest Nazarene, which will play Seattle Pacific at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday.
Emma Logan played in 13 games for No. 4 seed Northwest Nazarene, which will play Seattle Pacific at 2:15 p.m. on Thursday.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

LACEY, Wash. – Following an 11th-hour scramble for qualification into the 2016-17 GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships, the conference’s top six teams travel to Lacey to battle for the conference championship, starting on Thursday, March 2 in the Marcus Pavilion on the campus of Saint Martin’s University.

Alaska Anchorage, Western Washington and Simon Fraser have been the top three teams in the conference standings all season, while Northwest Nazarene, Seattle Pacific and Central Washington booked their tickets to the tournament on the final day of the regular season. Alaska Anchorage will be looking to win an unprecedented third consecutive GNAC Championship.

Alaska Anchorage, the No. 2 ranked team in both national polls, earned the top seed after beating two nationally-ranked opponents on the final weekend of the regular season. The Seawolves, 27-1 overall, completed the first 20-0 conference season and were the fifth team in GNAC women’s basketball history to finish undefeated. In fact, the Seawolves are undefeated against all NCAA Division II competition, thanks in large part to senior transfer Autummn Williams, who is 23 field goals away from the GNAC single-season record. Williams enters the tournament  tied for second in the GNAC and is among the top-10 in Division II in scoring, averaging 21.1 points per game.

Senior Kiki Robertson was the GNAC Championships Most Valuable Player in each of the last two seasons. The guard has played an enhanced role this season, starting all 28 games and averaging 8.7 points per game. She ranks among the league leaders in assists at 5.5 per game. The Seawolves are well-rounded, leading the GNAC in both scoring offense (82.8 points per game) and scoring defense (52.8 points allowed per game).

Western Washington is the tournament’s No. 2 seed after finishing with an 18-2 GNAC record, 24-4 overall. The Vikings had a 17-game winning streak that spanned nearly three months in the middle of the season. That included an 84-72 win against Simon Fraser in which Division II’s leading scorer, Taylor Peacocke, tallied 41 points. The streak ended last weekend in a double overtime loss to Alaska Anchorage, which was the only GNAC team to defeat the Vikings all year. Peacocke is averaging 23.1 points per game and, at 1.841 points, is 105 points away from the GNAC career scoring record.

Seniors Tia Briggs and Kiana Gandy give Western Washington three double-digit scorers, averaging 12.9 points and 12.5 points per game, respectively. Briggs is the Vikings’ leading rebounder at 6.5 boards per game. Western Washington is the most accurate offensive team in the conference, leading in field goal shooting (.457), three-point shooting (.370) and free throw shooting (.808).

Simon Fraser locked up the No. 3 seed with nearly two weeks left in the season. In the first round, the Clan will face Central Washington, which is the only lower-seeded team to have beaten SFU in the regular season. At 24-6 overall and 15-5 in conference play, the Clan is one win away from equaling its program record of 26 wins in a season since joining the NCAA.

The Clan is led by a pair of dynamic scorers in seniors Ellen Kett and Meg Wilson. Kett, who averages 12.1 points per game, has already smashed the GNAC’s single-season assists record with 234 and set a conference single-game record with 20 assists against Montana State Billings on Feb. 18. Wilson has been one of the primary beneficiaries with 14.7 points per game this year.

The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds, Northwest Nazarene and Seattle Pacific, split their games during the regular season and finished with identical 10-10 conference records. The two teams will meet again in the championships quarterfinals. The Falcons, 18-10 overall, started the year on an 11-game winning streak with impressive wins against last year’s West Region runner-up UC San Diego, West Region No. 1 seed Azusa Pacific and South Region semifinalist Nova Southeastern. The Crusaders, however, put an end to that winning streak on New Year’s Eve with a 73-66 victory.

It was the first time all year that any team had reached 70 points in a game against Seattle Pacific, and that productive offense characterized Northwest Nazarene all season, averaging 77.9 points per game. The Crusaders, 12-14 overall, spread the wealth offensively evenly all season. There were only six games in which a single player reached the 20-point mark and no single player ever scored more than 25. Kaitlyn Merritt selflessly facilitates that offense with a team-best 83 assists and just 2.2 points per game in a team-high 26.2 minutes per game. Northwest Nazarene leads the GNAC with 38.2 rebounds per game, led by 5.2 rebounds per game from junior Lexi Tubbs.

The Seattle Pacific defense made the necessary adjustments in the second meeting, holding NNU to a season low 63 points for a 68-63 victory. The Falcons were ranked No. 9 in the NCAA Regional Rankings going into the final week of the regular season and will be looking to add to their resume for a chance to be one of the eight teams to compete in the NCAA West Region tournament. The Falcons are among the top defensive teams in the league, limiting opponents to 59.4 points per game while ranking third in the GNAC in both field goal defense (.389) and three-point defense (.301).

Junior Courtney Hollander is the Falcons leading scorer and rebounder with 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, but has battled through injuries through the second half of the season. Junior Jordan McPhee is averaging 11 points per game.

Central Washington, the No. 6 seed in the championships, put together an incredible run to get into the tournament on a tiebreaker. The run started when, at 3-10 in conference play, the Wildcats upset Simon Fraser with a 73-66 overtime victory in Burnaby, B.C. The Wildcats went on to win six of their last seven games, including another overtime win against Northwest Nazarene, to erase a four-game deficit to Alaska and clinch a berth into the tournament for a third consecutive season.

The Wildcats boast the GNAC’s leading rebounder in junior Taylor Baird, who averages 8.6 rebounds per game while also leading the team in scoring at 13.1 points per game. Senior Jasmin Edwards is averaging 10.6 points per game while also distributing 141 assists.