(MSUB Athletics photo)

(MSU Billings release)

BILLINGS – The race towards the 2017-18 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Championships begins this week for Montana State University Billings, as the Yellowjackets kick off a stretch of 18 straight conference games with a pair of contests in Washington.

MSUB (9-3, 2-0 GNAC) will face No. 25 Seattle Pacific University on Thursday at Brougham Pavilion in Seattle, before taking on Saint Martin’s University on Saturday at Marcus Pavilion in Lacey, Wash. Both games are scheduled to tip off at 6:15 p.m. Mountain time.

“We are excited to get back into GNAC play after the break, and we have two quality opponents to get ready for in SPU and SMU,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Winning on the road in the GNAC is always so difficult, so I am looking forward to seeing how we respond to these two important road games. SPU is having another great season and SMU is vastly improved, so we will definitely have our hands full.”

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The ‘Jackets will have had more than a full week away from the court, with their last game on Dec. 19 before the holiday break. The team entered its trip to Hawaii with a perfect 9-0 record, but suffered its first setbacks of the year with three losses against top-notch competition. MSUB fell to No. 7 Drury 74-69, lost to reigning Elite Eight participant Harding 87-72, and fell against homestanding Hawaii Pacific 79-52.

“Our Hawaii trip was a good one, as we had a lot of fun together as a team and played three very good teams,” said Woodin. “It would have been nice to come out on top in some of the games there, but I do believe playing those three teams will help us in the long run.”

MSUB will look to bounce back in its return to conference play, where the squad moved to the top of the standings by picking up early home victories over Western Washington University (Nov. 30) and Simon Fraser University (Dec. 2). The final 18 games on MSUB’s regular-season schedule are all league contests, as the Yellowjackets seek a return to the conference tournament after missing the event last season. The top-six teams in the final GNAC standings will earn a berth into the conference championships, which will run March 1-3, 2018 in Anchorage, Alaska.

The Yellowjackets’ next home games will be in the form of a four-game stretch from Jan. 4-13. Overall the team has eight home games and 10 road matchups in the remainder of the regular season.


IN THE RANKINGS: The ‘Jackets remained in the D2SIDA west region top-10, checking in at sixth place in the latest poll released Dec. 18.

BREEN CLIMBS SCORING CHARTS: Senior Alisha Breen continued her ascent up the MSUB career scoring chart last week, jumping two spots to No. 7 in school history with 1,460 points. Entering the week, Breen remains the GNAC leader with 20.8 points per game, which also ranks No. 18 in the NCAA overall. She has totaled 250 points over her first 12 games, with no other player in the conference having scored more than 198 points. Sixty-eight of Breen’s points have come from the free-throw line, where she is shooting 91.9 percent. Her 68 total makes are tied for the seventh-most in Division II, with the national leader standing at 81 makes (Dana Watts, American International University).

MSUB Women’s Basketball Career Scoring Leaders (12/26/17)
Rank Name Points Seasons
1 Alira Carpenter 2000 2006-09
2 Bobbi Knudsen 1831 2011-14
3 Tera Silvius 1620 1992-95
4 Evonne Goroski 1572 1985-88
5 Deb Prevost 1540 1975-78
6 Megan Mason-Dickerson 1519 1995-98
7 Alisha Breen 1460 2014-18
8 Kayleen Goggins 1456 2011-15
9 Sherry McQuinn 1452 1991-93
10 Shelley Altrogge 1382 1990-91

KANE UPS SCORING AVERAGE: For the second time in her career, senior point guard Rylee Kane reached the 20-point threshold in MSUB’s hard-fought matchup against Drury. She was five points away from her career high of 25, and followed with 14 points in the next game against Harding. Overall she bumped her season average up to 11.3 points per game, which is second on the team and 21st in the league. Kane also moved to No. 4 in school history with 453 assists, and she continues to rank among national leaders as her season total of 69 is ninth-highest in Division II.

MSUB Women’s Basketball Career Assists Leaders (12/26/17)
Rank Name Assists Seasons
1 Amy Winslow 589 1996-99
2 Bobbi Knudsen 532 2011-14
3 Shantell Marquis 472 2006-11
4 Rylee Kane 453 2014-17
5 Tera Silvius 448 1992-95
6 Shiloh Schwab 399 1994-98
7 Megan Mason-Dickerson 355 1995-98
8 Jenny Langofrd 291 2003-06
9 Jetton Meadors 282 2006-09
10 Evonne Goroski 272 1985-88

PREVOST NEARS CAREER HIGH: With 14 points against Harding, senior guard Lexi Prevost came up one point shy of her career high of 15. She knocked down 4 of 7 treys in the game, her highest total from the arc this year and the second time in her career she hit four times. Over her last five games, Prevost has been red hot from the arc at 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) while also averaging 2.2 rebounds and one steal. The Sidney, Mont., native has played the key role of shooting guard this year, starting all 12 games for MSUB and ranking fourth on the squad with 7.1 points per game.

LEMELIN EARNING MINUTES: Sophomore guard Jeanann Lemelin has played double-digit minutes in seven of her last eight games, a span in which she has provided a boost off the bench. Totaling 35 minutes last week, Lemelin didn’t have a single turnover and also reached her personal best of nine points in a game against Hawaii Pacific. Though she has had limited 3-point opportunities, Lemelin has high accuracy with a percentage of 42.9 on the season from the arc (9-for-21).

STAVISH NEARS DOUBLE-DOUBLE: Hauling in a career-high eight rebounds against Harding, junior Vanessa Stavish approached a double-double as she added a dozen points. The starter continues to be a top producer for MSUB on both sides of the ball, ranking third with 9.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.

PROTECTING THE BALL KEY: Entering last week’s games, MSUB averaged just 11.7 turnovers per game, which was fourth fewest in the NCAA. An uncharacteristic 25 giveaways hurt the ‘Jackets in the loss to Drury, but the team recovered with just 11 apiece in its final two games in Hawaii. This week, MSUB is No. 16 in the NCAA in assist-turnover ratio at 1.29 and No. 14 in fewest turnovers with 12.7 per contest.

No. 25 Seattle Pacific University Falcons
Thursday, Dec. 28 – 6:15 PM (MTN) – Brougham Pavilion
2017-18 Record: 8-2, 2-1 GNAC
Last Five: L-W-W-W-L
Head Coach: Julie Heisey, 13th season
2016-17 Record: 19-11, 10-10 GNAC (5th place, GNAC tournament semifinals)

Seattle Pacific is off to a strong start to its season, cracking into the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association top-25 at No. 25 this week while reaching as high as No. 13 earlier this year. The Falcons snapped a three-game winning streak with a 75-70 loss to Oklahoma Christian in their final game before the holiday break. The team began conference play with a shocking 59-57 loss to Concordia, but responded with wins over Western Oregon and Saint Martin’s to move towards the top of the early standings.

Jordan McPhee is SPU’s top player, leading the team and ranking third in the league with 15.3 points per game. She is shooting 48.2 percent from the field, and her 5.8 rebounds per game are third most on the team.

Courtney Hollander is another double-figure scorer for the Falcons, with 11.7 points per game. She also ranks second on the team with 7.8 rebounds per game. Julia Haining is SPU’s top rebounder with an average of 8.4, while adding 8.7 points.

The Falcons have not been a threat from distance this year, ranking 10th in the conference with a 3-point field-goal percentage of 30.6. SPU is sixth in the league in overall field-goal percentage at 41.1, and is fourth in free-throw percentage at 74.6. The Falcons do well on the boards with a positive rebounding margin of plus-7.8 (43.0-35.2).

The Series: MSUB is 20-29 all-time against SPU including a mark of 5-20 in road games against the Falcons. SPU has won three in-a-row, five of the last six, and eight of the last 10 dating back to 2013. Thursday’s game will mark the fourth time in the last seven meetings that SPU has carried a national ranking at the time of the game.

Last Time Out: SPU claimed both meetings last year, winning 67-50 in Seattle on Jan 5, 2017 and 98-57 in Billings on Feb. 4, 2017. SPU’s 35 points in the first quarter of the blowout were the most points MSUB has allowed in a quarter. Kane had 11 points and six assists in the road loss, and 13 points and five helpers in the home defeat.

Saint Martin’s University Saints
Saturday, Dec. 30 – 6:15 PM (MTN) – Marcus Pavilion
2017-18 Record: 5-6, 1-2 GNAC
Last Five: L-L-W-L-L
Head Coach: Christy Martin (1st season)
2016-17 Record: 5-23, 1-19 GNAC (11th place)

SMU claimed a 74-65 win over Concordia for its first GNAC win of the year on Dec. 2, but has since lost its last two games. The Saints fell to Oklahoma Christian University 87-72 in their last game before the break, and have just one game this week in Saturday’s matchup with MSUB.

MSUB’s Breen is the only player in the GNAC averaging more points than the Saints’ Elin Johansson, whose 18.0 leads the team as does her rebounding average of 7.4. Saniah Simpson-Patu is close behind with 15.0 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game, while ranking second on the team with 25 assists.

Rebekah Baugh, Hannah Reynolds, and Makenna Schultz are the top 3-point shooters for SMU, which hits at a clip of 35.0 percent from long range as a team. Schultz is also a double-figure scorer with 10.3 points per game, and Reynolds is the team’s leader with 2.7 assists per game.

SMU is being out-scored 69.6-69.0 on the year, and is being out-rebounded 40.7-37.9. The team is shooting 41.6 percent from the floor overall, and 70.4 percent from the foul line.

The Series: The Yellowjackets are 25-11 all-time against the Saints, and hold an 11-9 record in road matches. MSUB has won four of the last five games, and 10 of the last 13 dating back to 2011.

Last Time Out: The Saints beat the ‘Jackets 64-57 in Lacey last year, before MSUB claimed a 71-57 triumph at home in the series split. Kane had 17 points in the loss, while Brina Hull had her career high of 14 points in the home win.