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MSU Billings opens GNAC tournament vs. Western Washington Thursday

Taylor Cunningham MSUB
Posted at 7:25 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 23:18:55-05

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – The Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships quarterfinals begins this week for Montana State University Billings. No. 6 seed Yellowjackets faces No. 3 seed Western Washington at Brougham Pavilion Thursday, March 5 at 5:15 p.m.

The tournament will be live streamed online with commentary and statistics available on Fan in Billings can also watch the game live at 406 Kitchen and Taproom on North 27th street near MSUB campus.

MSU Billings (14-15, 9-11) lost by four points to Western Washington seven days ago in the Magic City and bring three all-conference honorable mention players to the Thursday night’s matchup.

The Yellowjackets last qualified for the GNAC Championships in 2017-18 as the No. 4 seed and ran off six straight wins to reach the NCAA Division II Elite Eight. This year’s young squad features three senior captains, including Jeanann Lemelin, Taylor Cunningham, and Janessa Williams. Point guard Hannah Collins, forward Taryn Shelley, and freshman Shayla Montague have been regulars in head coach Kevin Woodin’s starting lineup.

“Since we just played Western Washington a week ago, I think a lot of things will be similar for both team personnel and scheme wise,” mentioned MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “It’s two teams that know each other very well and I feel it will come down to which team can execute their game plan the best.”

LAST TIME: Western Washington edged out the ‘Jackets 76-72 at Alterowitz Gymnasium on February 27. Both teams shot the basketball well offensively at around 50-percent from the field. Emma Duff led the Vikings with 21 points, nine rebounds, and two steals. Carley Zaragoza finished with 13 points and Anna Schweke added 12. Danielle Zahn managed 14 points and six assists to help the Yellowjackets and Taryn Shelley notched 14 points with a pair of blocks.

The Yellowjackets gained an eight-point advantage with 5:46 to play in the second quarter but the Vikings stormed back for a 36-36 tie at halftime. After trading one-point leads through the entire third quarter, Western Washington went ahead for the final time with 1 minute to go in the contest on a layup by Schwecke. Lexie Bland and Mollie Olson added free throws and the 'Jackets failed to convert 3-point attempts on their final two possessions.

MSUB was out-rebounded 36-29. The Vikings also made 44 points in the paint compared to 28 for MSUB. The lead changed hands eight times and was tied six time.

“Transitioning, rebounding, and limiting their best players are going to be the keys for us Thursday night,” said MSUB assistant coach Alisha Breen. “Anna Schweke and Emma Duff have hurt us the most this season offensively at over 50-percent shooting. We need to limit them as much as possible to give ourselves a chance to win. It’s also important for us to win the offensive glass because they have out-rebound their opponents by around 12 in games they’ve won this season.”

FOR THE ‘JACKETS: Sophomore forward Taryn Shelley led the team with 11 double-doubles in the regular season. Her 13.2 points per game ranked No. 9 in the conference and 8.4 rebounds per game was third best. Shelley was effective in the post for the 'Jackets, shooting .475 from the field. On defense, she led the ranked first on the squad in blocks (37), fourth in steals (17), and seventh in assists (17). She marked a career high 29 points against Cal Poly Pomona on November 2, 2019.

Junior guard Hannah Collins was the Yellowjackets go-to point guard in 2019-20 and converted 15 or more points 17 times. Collins ranked second on the team with 12.6 points per game, which was also 11th best in the conference. Collins had a season high 25 points in a game against Western Washington on December 7, 2019. She recorded 68 assists (second), 24 steals (second), and 3.0 rebounds (sixth) for the 'Jackets.

Jeanann Lemelin emerged as a premier defensive player in the GNAC and led the team with 48 steals (11th in the conference) while frequently drawing offensive foul calls against MSUB opponents. Lemeline tied and then surpassed the MSUB school record for 3-pointers in a game when she had 10 in a game against Seattle Pacific University. Lemelin finished second in the league in 3-point percentage (.406) and led the team with 67 made shots from beyond the arc. Lemelin scored a career high 32 points on February 22, 2020 at Seattle Pacific and was third on the team with 11.8 points per game. Lemelin led the team with 79 assists.

“I think the strength of our team is togetherness,” Woodin said. “They work hard defensively and they’re communicating much better than a month ago. When we are playing well, we have balance between inside and outside shooting. We have had several players get double-figure point totals and we are hard guard because you can’t just focus on one player.”

FRESHMAN IMPRESSION: In November, Woodin emphasized that in order for the team to be successful in 2019-20, they would need meaningful contributions from their newcomers. Billings native and freshman Shayla Montague has 17 starts at guard and averaged 21.7 minutes per game. Montague is tied for the team lead with 38 made 3-pointers (.362). She also averaged 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per contest. She marked a season high 17 points against Saint Martin’s University and 10 rebounds versus Black Hills State University. With her ability to score from all over the court, particularly from long-range, Montague will be a critical piece of the puzzle Thursday night for the Yellowjackets.

Fellow freshmen, TyLee Manuel and Danielle Zahn have been among the first players off the bench and will be important role players against Western Washington. Manuel, a forward, averages 11 minutes per game and is third on the squad at 99 rebounds. Zahn helps at point guard and is scoring at a clip of 3.4 points per game in 14 minutes.

Other players expected to see time Thursday night include sophomore Emily St. John (3.3 ppg, 21.5 min), senior Janessa Williams (1.4 ppg, 9.7 min), and freshman Addison Gardner (2.5 ppg, 6.9 min).

BROADER PICTURE: The Yellowjackets arrived in Seattle Tuesday and practiced at Brougham Pavilion on the campus of host Seattle Pacific University. The team will prepare with film sessions and practice again Wednesday and Thursday before tipoff at 5:15 p.m. No. 1 seed University of Alaska Anchorage and No. 2 seed Northwest Nazarene earned a bye to the semifinals, which will take place Friday. The Yellowjackets and Vikings lead off the tournament with No. 5 seed Central Washington and No. 4 seed Simon Fraser University following at 7:30 p.m. If the Yellowjackets defeat WWU, they will face Northwest Nazarene Friday at 5:15 p.m. in the semifinals.







Alaska Anchorage






Northwest Nazarene






Western Washington






Simon Fraser






Central Washington






MSU Billings






Saint Martin's






Seattle Pacific












Western Oregon












Scouting No. 3 seed Western Washington University
Thursday, March 5 – 5:15 p.m. LT – Seattle, Washington – Brougham Pavilion
2019-20 Record: 20-8, 14-6 GNAC, 11-1 home, 8-6 away, 1-1 neutral
2018-19 Record: 17-13, 11-9 GNAC, 11-7 home, 5-5 away, 1-1 neutral
Head Coach: Carmen Dolfo (29th season)

Western won both games vs. Montana State Billings during the regular season, defeating the Yellowjackets 81-61 on Dec. 7 in Bellingham and closed out the regular season with a 76-72 win over MSUB on Feb. 27. WWU leads the all-time series 26-16 vs. MSUB and has won six of the last eight.

WWU is led by the 12.8 points per game from senior center Anna Schwecke, who ranks 2nd in the GNAC with a 61.0 field goal percentage, and junior guard Emma Duff's 11.6 points per game scoring average. Duff is 6th in the GNAC with a team-best 6.8 rebounds per game and 6th with 1.1 blocked shots per game. Senior guard Lexie Bland adds 9.3 points, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game for the Vikings.

Schweke was named first team all-GNAC on Tuesday. Lexie Bland was named second team and Emma Duff was all-GNAC honorable mention.

The Vikings average 75.2 points per game and allow 63.6 points to opponents. WWU leads the GNAC in both offensive and defensive rebounding, as well as blocked shots, and assists.

EXPECTATIONS FOR MSUB: “Our focus for this week has been about just being as prepared as best we can for this one game,” Woodin said. “Our seniors are helping us achieve that goal. We know it is going to be a difficult game against a challenging team but everyone is very excited. Some of our players got a taste of playoff basketball a couple years ago and they know that there are many close games. I would expect similar this year and we are ready to play.”