(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Grace Weeks and Rachel Koehler dominated the glass and facilitated the Montana State University Billings offense Thursday night at Alterowitz Gym, as the Yellowjacket women’s basketball team rolled to a comfortable 86-56 win over Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe University of Alaska.
MSUB opened the game on a 12-0 run and had a double-figure lead by the middle of the first quarter that never wavered in the wire-to-wire win. Weeks finished with her best game as a Yellowjacket, with 18 points and eight rebounds to lead the team in her first start of the year. Koehler was equally as effective, with seven points, eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals in 19 minutes off the bench.
The Yellowjackets (11-4, 4-1 GNAC) maintained their perfect 8-0 record in home games this season, recording their second-largest margin of victory and third highest point total of the year. “It was a good win tonight, and I liked our start in the first half,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We haven’t done that in awhile where we started really well, and that really set the tone tonight. They kept fighting that whole first half, but we played really well at the end of that half. We shot the ball well, were scrambling defensively, and were getting on the boards tonight.”
Alaska lost its second straight game, falling to 4-8 overall and 0-6 in conference play. Ashlie Blackburn had 17 points and seven rebounds, and Lexi Carpenter was also in double figures with 10 points for the visitors.
“We set goals to come out hard, and we really capitalized on that tonight,” said Koehler. “I just try to play with high energy and do a lot of the little things. We really like shooting at our home court, and we are really good at protecting it.”
Weeks set the tone with four of the first six points in the game, and back-to-back threes by Vanessa Stavish and Lexi Prevost made it 12-0 just three minutes into the action. Alaska scored the next five points, but a three by Taylor Edwards with 4:58 to go in the first built a double-figure advantage that lasted the rest of the night.
MSUB was up 27-13 by the end of the first quarter and led 50-26 at halftime. The Nanooks never got the deficit below 21 points in the second half, as the Yellowjackets remained in full control. Eleven of the 12 MSUB players who saw the court scored at least two points, and six different Yellowjackets had multiple rebounds.
Senior Alisha Breen had 11 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes, while Rylee Kane added 15 points and five assists in 23 minutes. Breen played only seven minutes in the second half and Kane played just six, as MSUB’s deep bench kept up the level of play over the final 20 minutes.
Stavish chipped in a dozen points and six rebounds, while Hannah Collins finished with six points, three assists, and a pair of steals in 20 minutes.
MSUB overcame its recent shooting struggles, making 35 of 66 shots from the field (53.0 percent) and 10 of 22 from long range (45.5 percent). “We spread the floor really well tonight,” Woodin said. “When we shoot the ball well from the 3-point line we are hard to beat.”
By contrast, Alaska hit just 18 of 55 shots (32.7 percent) including a line of 3-for-19 from 3-point range (15.8 percent). MSUB narrowly out-rebounded Alaska 38-36, and forced 21 turnovers while committing just 14.
THE BUZZ: Weeks was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…her previous high in scoring as a Yellowjacket was 17 points against Simon Fraser on Feb. 18 last season…Koehler’s seven points were a season high…MSUB is now 52-14 all-time against Alaska and has a 27-3 record in home games against the Nanooks.
COMING UP: The ‘Jackets welcome No. 6 University of Alaska Anchorage to Alterowitz Gym on Saturday night, for their third straight weekend taking on a nationally-ranked opponent. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal.