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MSU Billings back in action Thursday; women's Alaska trip rescheduled

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Posted at 9:45 AM, Jan 06, 2022

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS - After last week’s return to the court was postponed, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team is set to jump back into its Great Northwest Athletic Conference schedule at Alterowitz Gym this weekend.

The Yellowjackets (7-7, 1-1 GNAC) host No. 7 Western Washington University on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., before welcoming Simon Fraser University on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Both games will be on the back end of doubleheaders with the Yellowjacket men’s basketball team, which plays at 5:15 p.m. each night. Live coverage for this weekend’s games will be available online here.

“We are excited to get back into action after the long layoff,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “It was a bummer not being able to play last week in Alaska. I am concerned with how we respond after not playing in 19 days but then again, it is just awesome to be playing and especially at home. Our challenge is to become more consistent both within a single game and over an entire week. Our team has been very good at times but unfortunately our inconsistency has been a thorn in our side as well.”

ALASKA GAMES RESCHEDULED: Inclement weather as well as COVID-19 protocol prevented the Yellowjackets from making last week’s scheduled trip to Alaska, but the GNAC office announced the rescheduling of both of the postponed games. MSUB will play at No. 11 University of Alaska Anchorage on Jan. 17 at 5:15 p.m. (AKST), which will connect a string of three road games in five days after MSUB plays at Western Oregon on Jan. 13 and at Saint Martin’s on Jan. 15. After the ‘Jackets host University of Alaska Fairbanks on Jan. 29, the teams will play again at 1 p.m. on Jan. 30 at Alterowitz Gym. Amid a flurry of GNAC basketball postponements on both the women’s and men’s sides, the rescheduled games will ensure MSUB completes its 18-game conference schedule.

The ‘Jackets were last in action on Dec. 18, picking up a 72-58 win over University of Wisconsin Parkside. Prior to the win over UW Parkside, MSUB fell 59-46 to West Texas A&M University in its other game at the Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas on Dec. 17. The split contests were the Yellowjackets’ final two non-conference matchups of the year.

WOODIN BECOMES WINNINGEST COACH: With MSUB’s victory over UW Parkside, Woodin became the winningest head coach in the 95-year history of Yellowjacket Athletics. It was the 18th-year head coach’s 281st career victory, as he passed Hall of Famer Mike Harkins who won 280 games as the Yellowjacket men’s basketball head coach from 1960-76.

SHELLEY REACHES 1K, NAMED ALL-TOURNAMENT: Senior Taryn Shelley earned all-tournament recognition at the Holiday Hoops Classic, after leading the ‘Jackets to the win with a 17-point performance against UW Parkside. That came after a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double against West Texas A&M, and she also became the 25th player in school history to reach the 1,000-career points plateau. The double-double was the third of the season and the 21st of Shelley’s career, and she enters the week leading the team in both scoring (13.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg).

MONTAGUE UNLOADS FROM RANGE: Sophomore Shayla Montague was the driving force in MSUB’s victory last time out, as she knocked down a career-high six 3-pointers en route to 18 points against the Rangers. The Billings native also hauled in six rebounds, as she missed her career high in scoring by just two points. The big burst of scoring lifted her to third on the team with 7.0 points per game.

KUNKEL POSTS FIRST DOUBLE-DOUBLE: Cariann Kunkel led MSUB with 11 rebounds, while adding 15 points in the win to complete her first double-double of the year. It was her second double-double in an MSUB uniform and the 15th overall in her collegiate career. Kunkel ranks second on the team with 11.7 points per game, and leads the squad with a field-goal percentage of 53.8.

NELSON NOTCHES FIRST DOUBLE-DOUBLE: Second-year freshman Kortney Nelson completed the first double-double of her collegiate career last week, scoring 10 points and adding 10 rebounds in the victory over the Rangers. Nelson also had a career-high seven assists in the victory, and her assist-turnover ratio of 2.5 ranks her fourth in the conference this season.

No. 7 Western Washington University Vikings

Thursday, January 6, 2022 – 7:30 PM – Alterowitz Gym – Billings, Montana

2021-22 Record: 10-0, 2-0 GNAC

Head Coach: Carmen Dolfo, 31st season

2020-21 Record: 6-0, 0-0 GNAC

The Vikings have ascended into the top-10 in the latest Women’s Basketball Coaches Association poll, after starting the season with a perfect 10-0 record. The Vikings last played on Dec. 30, with a 70-52 victory over Western Oregon to extend the winning streak to double digits. After Thursday’s game in Billings, WWU plays at Seattle Pacific on Saturday afternoon.

Emma Duff is WWU’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 14.0 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. Also scoring in double figures is Mollie Olson at 11.2 points per game, and veteran point guard Dani Iwami is close behind at 9.0 points while leading the team with 2.8 assists per game. Avery Dykstra is the other Viking to have started all 10 games this season, and she is averaging 7.4 points per game.

WWU has out-scored its opponents 71.8-49.7, with its points allowed per game ranking No. 3 in all of Division II basketball. WWU has also commanded the glass, out-rebounding the opposition 41.0-29.5 which leads the GNAC at plus-11.5. WWU shoots 47.5 percent from the field, 34.3 percent from 3-point range, and 68.8 percent from the free-throw line.

“Western Washington is an impressive and complete team,” said Woodin. “They lead our conference in every defensive statistical category so it will be very important for us to execute and generate good shots and offensive balance. Their plus-22 point scoring differential is ridiculously good and it is easy to see why they are undefeated and considered the top team in our league and region at this point of the season. The Vikings are deep and talented and return a wealth of experience. We must be fundamentally sound defensively as you can’t key in on one or two players. Seven of their players score at least six points per game and a lot of their players have had double-digit scoring games.”

The Series: MSUB is 16-27 all-time against WWU and is 9-10 in games played at Alterowitz Gym. The Vikings have won five in-a-row and seven of the last 10 meetings dating back to the 2015-16 season.

Last Time Out: WWU swept the series during the 2019-20 season, which featured a 69-54 triumph at the GNAC Championships on March 5, 2020.

Simon Fraser University

Saturday, January 8, 2022 – 7:30 PM – Alterowitz Gym – Billings, Montana

2021-22 Record: 5-6, 1-1 GNAC

Head Coach: Bruce Langford, 22nd season

2020-21 Record: 0-0, 0-0 GNAC

Saturday will mark Simon Fraser’s second trip to the Magic City this season, after the team opened its campaign going 1-2 at the D2CCA Tipoff Classic at the Trailhead at the outset of November. After falling to Western Washington 82-60 on Dec. 4, SFU enters the week with the momentum of two straight wins including an 84-71 GNAC triumph over Western Oregon on New Year’s Day. SFU will play at Seattle Pacific on Thursday before heading east to Montana on Saturday.

GNAC Preseason Player of the Year Jessica Jones played her first game of the season in the team’s last appearance, scoring 212 points while adding five assists and four rebounds in the win over the Wolves. Jessica Wisotzki is the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points per game, and her mark of 40.7 percent from 3-point range ranks her fourth in the conference. Claudia Hart is another weapon from long range at 40.0 percent from the arc, and she averages 9.8 points per game.

SFU has out-scored its opposition 73.3-69.0 this season, and has maintained a positive rebounding margin at 36.6-35.2. SFU shoots 41.5 percent overall, 32.4 percent from 3-point range, and 68.3 percent from the free-throw line.

“Simon Fraser has great depth and team speed,” said Woodin. “Jessica Jones is now back in their lineup and consequently, their team is playing much better. They like to play up-tempo and statistically they shoot a lot of threes. We need to have excellent transition defense and we need to get out to their shooters.”

The Series: MSUB is 11-12 all-time against SFU and holds a 7-4 record in games played in Billings. The teams have split the last six meetings 3-3 dating back to the 2017-18 season.

After a three-week break from competition, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team returns to Great Northwest Athletic Conference play with home games against Western Oregon and Saint Martin’s this Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Both men’s basketball games will tip off at 5:15 p.m. All livestream and live stat links can be found on the men’s basketball schedule page at msubsports.com.

Last week, the Yellowjackets’ (5-7, 1-1 GNAC) were scheduled to take their annual Alaska trip last week, but COVID complications within the Alaska Nanooks program, then travel issues up to Alaska Anchorage prevented MSUB from playing. Instead, MSUB will play at Alaska on Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. MT, then make the trip to Alaska Anchorage for another 9 p.m. showdown on Feb. 8.

Until then, however, the ‘Jackets will pit their GNAC-leading defense against the only 2-0 team in league play (Western Oregon) and a Saint Martin’s offense that boasts five double-figure scorers. So far, MSUB’s defense has held opponents to 63.9 points per game on 40.2% shooting, which rank 27th and 34th in the nation, respectively.

“We’ve got a good buy-in from everyone,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said of the Yellowjackets’ defense so far. “I think it’s been a collective group effort. We’ve leaned on different guys for the tough defensive assignment every night. There aren’t too many secrets in GNAC play, so I hope we can stay consistent and keep improving.”

In December, the Yellowjackets made the most of their trip to Las Vegas, as they split a pair of games in the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic. First, MSUB took the then-fourth-ranked West Texas A&M Buffs (who are now ranked third) down to the wire, but fell 59-57 on a buzzer-beater, then the ‘Jackets put the clamps down on Rollins College in a 59-40 win less than 24 hours later.

All told, MSUB’s defense was the headline during the trip. The ‘Jackets held West Texas A&M to shooting just 29.5% from the field and Rollins fared slightly better with its 32.9% clip, but both were season-lows. Additionally, the 40 points MSUB surrendered to Rollins was the lowest mark against a Division II opponent since the 1987-88 season.

“I was really pleased with how we started out against West Texas A&M, how we competed and took it to the wire,” Durham said. “And I was more impressed with how we bounced back. We seem to be a team that can get from one game to the next. We’re pretty resilient in that way, how we’re showing up every night. But are we perfect in the 40 minutes? We have our lapses, but we’ve done a pretty good job with preparing and being focused for each separate contest.”

Proving they could hang with anyone in the nation, the ‘Jackets got out to a hot start by outscoring the Buffs 16-3 in the first 10 minutes. When West Texas A&M tried to counter, MSUB’s defense came through by baiting the mistake-averse Buffs into costly turnovers by doubling the low post, jumping the passing lanes and forcing West Texas A&M to take ill-advised shots late in the shot clock. Offensively, MSUB had four players with at least five points in the first half as the team out-shot West Texas A&M 38.5% to 28.1% in the defense-heavy contest.

The ‘Jackets maintained the lead in the second half, withstanding several runs from the Buffs before the game’s tense final minutes. Five-straight points from West Texas A&M forward Larry Wise nearly put the game away late, but threes from Carrington Wiggins and Nicholas Sebastiao helped the ‘Jackets keep things close. Like he has so often this season, Damen Thacker came through with clutch free throws, then nailed a three to tie the game at 57 with seven seconds to go. Yet the ‘Jackets walked away heartbroken after Zach Toussaint’s off-balance corner jumper beat the buzzer to hand MSUB a 59-57 loss.

Playing on a short turnaround, the ‘Jackets rebounded against Rollins College, which came into the tournament with two prolific scorers in Kyle Marion and Hutton Yenor – both of whom averaged nearly 20 points per game. But MSUB controlled the game from the jump: Malik Brikat and Jimmy Brown established interior scoring early, Thacker dissected the myriad of zones Rollins threw at him and the ‘Jackets used a patient offensive attack en route to a 59-40 win.

“That’s the positive part of [playing against Rollins’ zone]: It made us be patient at times,” Durham said. “We got a couple easy hoops early, but sometimes playing against a zone defense makes us make a few more passes. We can use that at times.”

Although Rollins College pulled within one point in the second half, Bilal Shabazz and Emmanuel Ajanaku helped quash the Tars’ comeback attempts. Shabazz’s post passing led to easy buckets for Ajanaku, which sparked a 13-2 run that put Rollins in the rear-view mirror for good. Wiggins (13 points), Brikat (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Thacker (11 points, 7 assists) finished in double figures, plus Ajanaku nearly had a double-double off the bench with his nine-point, 10-rebound effort.

“Getting Bilal Shabazz back for Vegas helped with our depth and Emmanuel Ajanaku has really made some strides,” Durham said of the frontcourt’s performance in the Holiday Hoops Classic. “Malik Brikat has been showing some consistency. And Jimmy Brown has gotten us off to good starts, so we’ve stayed with that starting lineup.”

WESTERN OREGON WOLVES

Record: 3-7 (2-0 GNAC)

Head coach: Wes Pifer (3rd season)

Head-to-head record: 11-21

Last meeting: Feb. 1, 2020 (98-75, Western Oregon)

Don’t let the 3-7 record mislead you. The Western Oregon Wolves kicked off their season with a seven-game road trip – which included taking sixth-ranked Cal State San Bernardino to overtime – before turning heads by upsetting the Alaska schools in games that weren’t particularly close. First, Western Oregon blitzed Alaska in a 99-74 win, in which the Wolves held the GNAC’s leading scorer Shadeed Shabazz to two points. Then the Wolves completed the sweep with an 80-71 win over Alaska Anchorage, which was picked to finish second in the GNAC preseason polls.

“They had a tough schedule: They were on the road for three straight weeks before winning those league games at home,” Durham said. “I definitely think Western Oregon is coming in as a dangerous team with some confidence after being 2-0 with wins over the Alaska schools.”

So far, guard Cameron Cranston has been one of the most dynamic players in the conference, averaging 17.2 points per game on 46.2% shooting – including a 44.3% clip from three. The 6’6” junior also averages 5.7 rebounds, which leads the team.

“Cameron Cranston has been taking the bulk of their shots,” Durham said. “He had a big game here against us a few years ago where he started hitting a couple of threes and finished with 29 points. He’s really a rhythm guy. They have good perimeter depth, which allows them to be fresh defensively and press.”

Like MSUB, WOU enters this week after a lengthy break. Western Oregon’s last game was an 80-77 loss to Corban University out of the NAIA’s Cascade Collegiate Conference back on Dec. 11.

SAINT MARTIN’S SAINTS

Record: 8-3 (1-1 GNAC)

Head coach: Aaron Landon (2nd season)

Head-to-head record: 16-19

Last meeting: Feb. 15, 2020 (79-59, MSUB)

Picked to finish ninth in the GNAC preseason poll, the Saints quickly rendered those predictions moot. In a sign of results to come, the Saints had a halftime lead at Oregon State, were ahead for 30 minutes and let a would-be statement GNAC win slip away in a 83-80 exhibition loss. From there, Saint Martin’s had a productive, six-game road trip in California, where they went 4-2 against PacWest and CCAA competition.

Once conference play rolled around, the Saints suffered a minor setback in a 76-67 loss to Alaska Anchorage, in which the Saints allowed the Seawolves to connect on 14 of their 35 three-pointers. However, Saint Martin’s rebounded with am 87-74 win over Alaska, in which six different Saints scored in double-figures and the team withstood a 30-point night from Nanooks guard Shadeed Shabazz.

The Saints have a balanced offense with five players averaging at least 10 points per game. Chief amongst those players is Brett Reed: a seventh-year senior forward who is averaging 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in his first season for the Saints.

“They added some nice pieces from last season and they’re very dangerous,” Durham said of the Wolves. “They can throw a lot of different things at you, switch their defenses and have a pretty good balance.”

SMU also boasts two of the GNAC’s most accurate shooters in Marky Adams, who leads the GNAC with his 71.2% shooting, and the aforementioned Reed, who makes 61.5% of his field goals. Out on the perimeter, Alex Schumacher (11.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game) leads a Saint Martin’s backcourt bolstered by transfers like Kyle Greeley (Portland State), Jade Nielsen-Skinner (Portland State) and Christian Haffner (Des Moines Area CC).

“I think he is one of the best guards in our league,” Durham said of Schumacher. “He’s very fast, explosive and he has been through a lot in the GNAC.”