WWU Takes Home Court Advantage To GNAC Championships
Western Washington heads into the 2023 GNAC Women's Basketball Championships as back-to-back regular season champion and the No. 1 seed at home in Bellingham.
Western Washington heads into the 2023 GNAC Women's Basketball Championships as back-to-back regular season champion and the No. 1 seed at home in Bellingham.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – The 2023 GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships, presented by Under Armour, tips off Thursday in Western Washington University’s Carver Gym with plenty of intrigue ranging from a back-to-back regular-season champion to the pursuit of a GNAC record.

Western Washington enters the tournament with a true home court advantage as the reigning GNAC regular-season champions and the No. 1 seed. The Vikings finished the conference slate with a 16-2 record (22-3 overall) to claim the regular season title for the second year in a row. The Vikings have performed particularly well at home where they complied an 11-2 record in the regular season.

Western Washington is ranked No. 2 in the West Region coming into the tournament after compiling a 14-game win streak from Nov. 19 to Jan. 19. The Vikings lead the GNAC and rank second in Division II with a .386 three-point percentage, 19.6 assists and six blocks per game. They also lead the conference and rank third in Division II with a .488 field goal percentage and fourth with a +11.4 rebound margin. In terms of raw winning prowess, WWU leads the conference and ranks 14th in Division II having won 88% of its games.

The Vikings are led by junior forward Brooke Walling, who ranks ninth in the GNAC in scoring with 13.4 points per game. Walling has also been excellent on the boards, pulling down an average of 9.2 rebounds per game, and has recorded 10 double-doubles to rank second in the conference.

Montana State Billings secured the No. 2 seed in the tournament with a 14-4 GNAC record (23-6 overall). The Yellowjackets were the only team in the conference to hand WWU a loss in the regular season, sweeping the season series from the Vikings. The wins came in a stretch where MSUB won 11 games in a row from Jan. 5 to Feb. 16.

The Yellowjackets rank fifth in the GNAC in scoring with 68.4 points per game but have been elite defensively, leading the conference by holding opponents to an average of just 58.1 points per game. They also lead the GNAC with a 1.30 assist to turnover ratio that ranks No. 6 in Division II. Montana State Billings enter the GNAC Championships ranked No. 4 in the West Region.

Leading the way for MSUB is junior forward Dyauni Boyce, who averages 10.9 points per game while shooting 42.2% from the field. Boyce also leads the team in rebounds with an average of 5.6 per game. She is joined by senior forward Taryn Shelley, who has been potent off the bench with 11.1 points per game in an average of 17.9 minutes per contest.

Central Washington comes in as the No. 3 seed after compiling a 12-6 conference record (20-7 overall). The Wildcats come into Bellingham as the GNAC champions. They lead the GNAC and Division II with 31.9 defensive rebounds per game. They also lead the conference with 9.7 three-pointers made per game, good for seventh in Division II, and 78.5 points per contest which ranks 10th in the division.

The Wildcats’ offense features three of the conference’s top-eight offensive threats in the conference in senior center Samantha Bowman, sophomore guard Valerie “Sunshine” Huerta and freshman guard Asher Cai. Bowman leads the trio, and the GNAC, with 21.6 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. A tour de force on the court, Bowman leads the conference and ranks second in Division II with 22 double-doubles this season in her pursuit of the conference’s all-time rebounding record. Entering the tournament, Bowman trails the record of 1,181 career rebounds set by UAA’s Rebecca Kielpinski in 2009 by just eight.

Huerta has been the top CWU shooter from long range, leading the team with a .477 three-point percentage while knocking down 18.5 points per game to rank third in the GNAC. She also leads the team with a .877 free-throw percentage and an average of 32.4 minutes played per contest. Cai ranks eighth in the conference with 14.1 points per while shooting 38.9% from the field and 30.3% from long range.

Alaska Anchorage locked in the No. 4 seed with a 10-8 conference record (18-9 overall). The Seawolves were strongest at home where they owned a 10-3 record and will look to carry their form from the final two weeks of the regular season, where they won four in a row, into the postseason. The Seawolves lead the GNAC and rank eighth in Division II with a +7.92 turnover margin.

Junior guard Vishe’ Rabb has led the charge for UAA this season, scoring an average of 16.8 points per game to head up the Seawolves’ offense and rank fifth in the GNAC. She holds the top free-throw percentage in the GNAC at 86.8%. Rabb has also been one of the best on the boards for UAA, pulling in an average of 6.3 rebounds per contest.

Seattle Pacific enters the GNAC Championships as the No. 5 seed after putting together a 9-9 conference season (14-12 overall.) The Falcons average just 60.9 points per game but, like MSUB, they feature a strong defense that ranks third in the conference holding opponents to just 58.5 points on average. They also rank third in the GNAC with a .383 field goal percentage defense.

When it comes to offensive production, senior guard/forward Ashley Alter and senior forward Natalie Hoff have led the way for SPU. Alter ranks seventh in the GNAC with 15.2 points per game while Hoff averages 10.5 points.

Simon Fraser comes in as the No. 6 seed with an 8-10 conference record (10-12 overall). The Red Leafs have excelled at stopping opponents from long range and rank third in the GNAC in three-point percentage defense (.303). They have been one of the best blocking teams, averaging 4.8 blocks per game to rank second in the GNAC.

Junior guard/forward Jessica Wistozki led the GNAC in scoring for much of the season, finishing the regular season second in the conference and in the top 10 in Division II with 21.3 points per game. Sophomore forward Gemma Cutler and Sophia Wisotzki have been the other top-scoring threats for SFU as it heads to Bellingham looking to advance from the first round for the first time since 2017.

The GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships begin with the quarterfinals on Thursday. No. 3 Central Washington and No. 6 Simon Fraser tip off at 5:15 p.m. while No. 4 Alaska Anchorage and No. 5 Seattle Pacific face each other at 7:30 p.m.

The winner of Central Washington/Simon Fraser will face No. 2 Montana State Billings in the semifinals on Friday at 5:15 p.m. The winner of Alaska Anchorage/Seattle Pacific will face No. 1 Western Washington at 7:30 p.m. The championship game will be on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The winner of the GNAC Championships receives the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division II Championships.

Tickets for the GNAC Basketball Championships are available at GNACtickets.com. All games will be live-streamed on the conference’s YouTube channel, GNAC.tv.