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MSU Billings women open homestand Thursday night

Posted at 3:22 PM, Jan 25, 2018

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – Rolling into the week on a three-game winning streak, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team returns home for a pair of Great Northwest Athletic Conference contests at Alterowitz Gym.

The Yellowjackets (14-6, 7-3 GNAC) enter the week in fourth place in the GNAC standings, and will host Saint Martin’s University and Seattle Pacific University over the weekend. Tipoff against the Saints is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, and the game against the Falcons follows on Saturday at 7 p.m. Both games will feature live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics, available online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal here.

“It’s nice to have two GNAC home games this week, and I was proud of our players for getting two wins in Oregon a week ago,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Keys this week will again be establishing offensive balance, and it is going to be important to get the ball into the paint. We did that well in Oregon last week, and were able to open up some players from the perimeter.”

MSUB is coming off its first conference weekend road sweep since the 2015-16 season, after beating Western Oregon University 65-56 last Thursday and downing Concordia University 69-61 last Saturday. “I felt like we played our best in the fourth quarter in both games, and we were able to secure close wins late in the game,” said Woodin. “I’m hoping that gives us some momentum as we prepare to defend our home court this week.”

The Yellowjackets’ two opponents this week squared off on Tuesday evening, with SPU claiming a 94-76 victory over SMU in Lacey, Wash.

Four of the Yellowjackets’ final 10 games this year are at Alterowitz Gym, with the last home contests set for Feb. 15-17 after this weekend. The team will also have six road games as it continues to jockey for position in the GNAC standings down the stretch. The top-six teams at the end of the year earn a spot in the 2017-18 GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships, scheduled for March 1-3 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, Alaska.

SECOND TIME AROUND: Exactly halfway through the 20-game GNAC schedule, MSUB will begin the back stretch and face each league opponent for a second time this year. The Yellowjackets held on for a narrow 58-56 win over Saint Martin’s in Lacey, Wash., on Dec. 30, after falling 70-61 to then-No. 25 ranked Seattle Pacific on Dec. 28 in Seattle.

“The game against Saint Martin’s was close throughout the second half, and we were able to come out with the win,” Woodin commented on last month’s meeting with the Saints. “I expect another tough game from them, and SPU is the hottest team in the league right now. To end Anchorage’s GNAC winning streak with an 18-point win was impressive, and they have been playing well for quite some time. We will definitely have our hands full with them.”

REGIONAL RANKINGS: The ‘Jackets climbed one spot to No. 7 in the latest D2SIDA west region rankings released Monday. The first official NCAA west region rankings are due the week of Feb. 5, and will eventually determine the eight-team field for the 2018 NCAA Division II west region playoffs.

KANE NEARING 500 ASSISTS: Senior point guard Rylee Kane was instrumental in MSUB’s two wins on the road last week, totaling 31 points and snagging 11 rebounds. Her seven boards against Western Oregon were one away from her career high in a game, and she shot 50.0 percent overall from the field (13-for-26).

Kane collected four assists last week, pushing her career total to 485 as she inches closer to the 500 mark. She currently ranks third in MSUB history and eighth in GNAC history, and is looking to become just the seventh player in conference history to reach 500 assists in a career. She has a streak of 86 consecutive games with at least one assist, dating back to Feb. 7, 2015. Overall Kane has had an assist in 105 of her 108 career games, and she will move to No. 6 in GNAC history this week with two more starts to bring her total to 110.

BREEN CLEANS UP BOARDS: Alisha Breen picked up her ninth double-double of the year against Concordia on Saturday, grabbing 13 rebounds to go along with 17 points. Breen has 16 career double-doubles, and has the second-most in the conference this season behind Concordia’s Bailey Cartwright (11). Breen continues to lead the GNAC in scoring with 20.2 points per game, which ranks No. 16 in the NCAA Division II and No. 3 in the west region. She is second in the conference in rebounding with 9.3 boards per game.

Breen is also on the brink of a GNAC career record, as she needs 13 makes from the foul line to top the all-time mark of 472 free throws by Erin Chambers (Simon Fraser University, 2011-15). Breen is currently No. 3 in the NCAA with 118 makes on the season, and is third in the GNAC with a free-throw percentage of 87.4. Breen will also move to No. 6 in MSUB history as she prepares to play career games No. 114 and 115 this week. She needs seven points to move to No. 3 in MSUB history, as she enters this week’s games with 1,614 points in her career.

PREVOST PLAYS PERSISTENT DEFENSE: Senior Lexi Prevost has been a cog for MSUB defensively all year long, and has done some of her best work as of late. Last week she notched a career-best five steals in the game at WOU, and set a new personal standard for blocks with two in back-to-back games. Prevost has had a steal or a block in all but four games this year, and ranks second on the team in total steals with 24.

WEEKS LOCKS IN AT THE LINE: Senior Grace Weeks hit a career-best eight foul shots in the game against Concordia on Saturday, leading to her fourth double-figure performance of the season with a dozen points. She narrowly missed out on a double-double with eight rebounds in the game, helping the ‘Jackets to one of their best rebounding margins of the year at plus-10 against the ‘Cavs. Weeks is No. 5 on the team with 5.7 points per game, and is averaging 4.6 rebounds over her last seven games.

TWO CAREER HIGHS FOR TC: Knocking out a pair of career highs in the same game last week, sophomore Taylor Cunningham had one of her best-ever performances as a Yellowjacket against the Wolves. Cunningham knocked down 4 of 9 shots from the field – including 2 of 3 threes – en route to 12 points, while adding nine rebounds and just missing her first-career double-double. Like Weeks, Cunningham has upped her production as of late and is averaging 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds over her last seven games.

Saint Martin’s University Saints
Thursday, Jan. 25 – 7 PM – Alterowitz Gym
2017-18 Record: 6-13, 2-9 GNAC
Last Five: L-L-L-W-L
Head Coach: Christy Martin (1st season)
2016-17 Record: 5-23, 1-19 GNAC (11th place)
Last Meeting: MSUB 58, SMU 56 (Dec. 30, 2017 at Lacey, Wash.)

The Saints have dropped nine of their last 10 games after Tuesday’s loss to the Falcons at home. Thursday will mark the first of three straight road contests for SMU, which has a 2-4 record in games away from Marcus Pavilion.

SMU is being led this season by senior Elin Johansson, who averages 14.9 points per game and the second-most rebounds on the team with 6.5. Johansson suffered an injury in the team’s win over Alaska last week however, and did not play in Tuesday’s game against the Falcons.

Freshman phenom Saniah Simpson-Patu is second on the squad with 14.4 points per game, while leading her team with 6.9 rebounds in her first collegiate season. Makenna Schultz is also an offensive threat with 12.2 points per game, and enters Thursday’s contest coming off a 33-point effort in the loss to SPU on Tuesday. Schultz is the team’s top perimeter shooter, with 28 makes from beyond the arc.

Hannah Reynolds paces the offense with 2.2 assists per game, and is nearly automatic from the foul line at 96.8 percent (30-for-31). Rebekah Baugh is another shooter MSUB will have to watch out for, as she is second on the team with 23 made threes this year.

Overall the Saints are being out-scored by the opposition 69.6-64.8, and are being out-rebounded 40.1-35.9. SMU shoots 39.4 percent from the field, 29.9 percent from long distance, and 70.4 percent from the free-throw line.

The Series: The Yellowjackets are 26-11 all-time against the Saints, and hold a dominant mark of 14-2 in home games. MSUB has won 10 straight games at home against SMU, with the last loss at Alterowitz Gym coming on Feb. 2, 2008.

Last Time Out: Breen scored the final seven points for MSUB, and the ‘Jackets held on for a dramatic two-point win on the road. Breen finished with a monster 19-point, 17-rebound double-double, while Vanessa Stavish had a dozen points and Weeks had a personal-best 10 rebounds. Johansson had 16 points and eight rebounds, and Schultz had 15 for the Saints the last time the teams met.

Seattle Pacific University Falcons
Saturdya, Jan. 27 – 7 PM – Alterowitz Gym
2017-18 Record: 15-3, 9-2 GNAC
Last Five: W-W-W-W-W
Head Coach: Julie Heisey (13th season)
2016-17 Record: 19-11, 10-10 GNAC (4th place)
Last Meeting: #25 SPU 70, MSUB 61 (Dec. 28, 2017 at Seattle)

Currently on a six-game winning streak, SPU enters Saturday’s contest in Billings as the hottest team in the conference. After upsetting No. 4 Alaska Anchorage at home last week, the Falcons are just a half game back of first place in the GNAC standings. Each of SPU’s wins during its current streak have been by double-digits, as the Falcons haven’t played a single-possession game since a 58-57 loss to Northwest Nazarene University on Jan. 4.

The Falcons feature a diverse offensive corps, with five different players averaging 8.0 points or more. Jordan McPhee paces the squad with 14.7 points per game, while ranking third on the team with 5.5 rebounds. McPhee also has a team-best 41 steals, and her average of 2.3 takeaways per game is fourth-best in the GNAC.

Another double-figure scorer for SPU, Courtney Hollander averages 11.4 points per game while adding in 7.2 rebounds. Hollander can be a threat from 3-point range, where she has the second-most makes on the team with 20. Julia Haining is the top rebounder on the squad with 7.9 boards per contest, and is also averaging 8.2 points primarily scoring underneath the basket.

Rachel Shim, the reigning GNAC Player of the Week, is the most accurate distance shooter on the team at 39.6 percent from the arc. She ranks second on the team with 50 assists, trailing team leader Lindsay Lee by just two.

SPU has the third-best scoring margin in the conference at plus-13.3, as the Falcons out-score their opponents 73.5-60.2. SPU is the top team in the GNAC in rebounding margin at plus-6.3, as it grabs 40.9 boards per game while allowing just 34.6. Overall the Falcons shoot 41.5 percent from the floor, 32.7 percent from long range, and 75.2 percent from the free-throw line.

The Series: MSUB is 20-30 all-time against SPU, but is 14-7 in home games. The ‘Jackets have lost four in-a-row, six of the last seven, and nine of the last 11 in the series dating back to 2013.

Last Time Out: Breen had 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Kane contributed 15 points for the ‘Jackets. MSUB made just 6 of 25 threes (24.0 percent) in the loss. McPhee totaled 10 points and Haining had 13, while Hollander neared a double-double with 11 boards and nine points.