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MSU Billings women close season fighting for playoff position

Posted at 5:11 PM, Feb 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 16:45:19-04

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – The battle for positioning in the NCAA Division II women’s basketball west region rankings heats up this weekend, as Montana State University Billings closes the 2017-18 regular season with a pair of road games.

The Yellowjackets (18-10, 11-7 GNAC) have already clinched a spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships, scheduled for March 1-3 at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, Alaska. MSUB will earn either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed, and will play Central Washington University in the opening round of the tournament.

This week, MSUB plays at Simon Fraser University on Thursday night and at Western Washington University on Saturday night. The game against the Clan at the West Gym in Burnaby, B.C., will tip off at 8 p.m. Mountain time, and the game against the Vikings at newly-renovated Sam Carver Gymnasium will also start at 8 p.m. Mountain. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available for both games online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal here.

“This is a very important road trip for our team,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We would like to establish some momentum heading into next week’s GNAC tournament at Anchorage. Both teams we face this week have rich traditions and have been playing much better lately. They are still both in the hunt for a playoff berth, so I expect to get a focused effort from both SFU and WWU.”

Simon Fraser kept its hopes for a tournament berth alive with a 79-77 win over Western Washington on Tuesday evening. The teams are now tied for sixth place in the league standings, magnifying this week’s games against MSUB as only one playoff spot remains up for grabs.

REGIONAL RANKINGS: The Yellowjackets meanwhile have more to play for than positioning in the conference tournament, as they are trying to secure a spot in the eight-team NCAA Division II west region playoffs scheduled for the week following the conference tournament. MSUB slipped from No. 7 in the regional rankings last week to No. 8 in this week’s poll released Wednesday, as it held on to the bottom qualifying spot. MSUB also fell one spot to No. 8 in the D2SIDA west region rankings released on Monday.

“This is the time of season where everyone is tired physically, so mental toughness becomes very important,” said Woodin, who last led a Yellowjacket team to the NCAA regional playoffs during the 2015-16 season. “We need to maximize our possessions on offense by limiting turnovers, and create some extra shots through offensive rebounds or our defense. I am excited to see how we play this week.”


The ‘Jackets defeated Concordia University 77-57 last week at home, marking their third win of the season against the Cavaliers. The home regular season ended with a sour taste however, as MSUB lost 77-65 to ninth-place Western Oregon on Senior Night in the 2017-18 Alterowitz Gym finale. “Last week we played a complete game against Concordia, but struggled with consistency in the Western Oregon game,” Woodin said. “I am looking for us to be more consistent over both games and within each game.”

BREEN ENTERS UNPRECEDENTED TERRITORY: No player in GNAC women’s basketball history had earned five conference player of the week awards in one season until senior Alisha Breen achieved the feat after last week’s performance. Breen scored 56 points in MSUB’s two games, while adding 19 rebounds, 11 assists, six steals and a pair of blocked shots. She enters this week No. 4 in GNAC history with 1,783 career points, and No. 13 in conference history with 800 rebounds.

Breen’s sixth-career 30-point game last week (31 against Western Oregon) helped boost her GNAC-leading scoring average on the year to 20.5 points per game. Entering this week, she ranks No. 12 in the NCAA in scoring, and her 573 total points scored this year are the sixth-most in GNAC history.

KANE CONTINUES TO PEAK LATE: Senior point guard Rylee Kane has continued her high output over the last third of the season, as she is averaging 14.2 points per game over her last 12 contests. Kane had a dozen more assists in last week’s games, bringing her career total to 524 which is No. 3 in MSUB history and No. 5 in GNAC history. Kane also had a career-best six steals in the game against the Wolves, and her 177 career takeaways are No. 9 in school history and No. 26 in conference history. Overall this season, Kane ranks No. 15 in the NCAA with 140 assists, and she is No. 2 in the conference with an average of 5.0 per game.

STAVISH STAYS IN DOUBLE FIGURES: Junior Vanessa Stavish has now scored in double figures in each of her last five games, after contributing 24 points in last week’s games. Stavish also added 11 total rebounds, as she ranks second on the team with 4.8 boards per game to go along with her third-best 9.5 points. On the season, Stavish has been a solid option from 3-point range as she ranks second on the team with 45 makes and a percentage of 33.6.

‘JACKETS EXCEL IN CLOSE GAMES: In general this season, MSUB has come out on top in close games. Among the team’s 10 losses, only two have been by single digits. Among the 18 wins however, nine have been decided by less than 10 points and four have been decided by five points or less.

Simon Fraser University Clan
Thursday, February 22 – 8 PM MTN – West Gym
2017-18 Record: 13-14, 8-11 GNAC
Last Five: W-W-L-W-L
Head Coach: Bruce Langford, 17th season
2016-17 Record: 26-8, 15-5 GNAC (3rd place, NCAA West Region Finalist)
First Meeting: MSUB 70, SFU 61 (Dec. 2, 2017 at Billings, MT)

SFU faced a must-win scenario on Tuesday night at home, and came through with a two-point win over Western Washington. The Clan stayed in the hunt for the conference tournament with the win, and will look to make it three straight victories if they can top MSUB on Thursday.

The Clan are being led by Sophie Swant, who ranks eighth in the GNAC with 14.1 points per game. Swant enters the week leading the GNAC in free-throw percentage at 89.7, and is also the team’s top rebounder with 5.7 boards per game.

Also scoring in double figures for SFU are Tayla Jackson and Nicole Vander Helm, who average 11.9 and 11.0 points, respectively. Jackson is second on the team with 4.7 rebounds and Vander Helm is third with 4.2, and the latter is also a 36.1 percent shooter from 3-point range.

MSUB will look to replicate its performance of holding SFU to just 21.7 percent from 3-point range in the first meeting of the season, as the Clan enter Thursday’s game No. 3 in the conference from the arc at 33.5 percent.

Overall SFU is eighth in scoring margin at minus-0.2 (69.4-69-6), and is last in rebounding margin at minus-6.3 (31.4-37.6). The Clan are shooting 40.6 percent from the field, 33.5 percent from downtown, and 80.3 percent from the free-throw line.

The Series: The Yellowjackets are 9-9 all-time against SFU, and have a 2-5 record in games played in Burnaby. MSUB snapped a three-game losing skid in the series with the win earlier this season.

Last Time Out: Breen led all players with 29 points, while Stavish added 11 and Hannah Collins had 10. Jackson led SFU with 18 points, while Vander Helm had 10 points and six boards.

Western Washington University Vikings
Saturday, Feb. 24 – 8 PM MTN – Carver Gym
2017-18 Record: 12-15, 8-11 GNAC
Last Five: L-L-W-L-W
Head Coach: Carmen Dolfo, 27th season
2016-17 Record: 26-6, 18-2 GNAC (2nd place, NCAA West Region 1st Round)
First Meeting: MSUB 75, WWU 62 (Nov. 30, 2017 at Billings, MT)

WWU is scrambling to keep its streak of attending every GNAC tournament alive, as the Vikings have been to all six previous conference affairs since the inception of the single-site tournament in 2012-13.

The Vikings reeled off a big four-game winning streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 8, revitalizing their hopes at a playoff spot. The team has lost 3 of 4 since then however, and will watch Thursday’s game between MSUB and SFU intently to find out if Saturday’s matchup against the ‘Jackets is a must-win.

Hannah Stipanovich has been the top offensive weapon all season long for WWU, as she is averaging 12.8 points per game and 7.0 rebounds to lead the team in each category. Stipanovich is a force under the basket, as she shoots 48.7 percent from the floor.

Gracie Casteneda is also in double figures with 10.6 points per game, and is second on the team with an average of 29.1 minutes per contest. Point guard Dani Iwami is sixth in the GNAC with 4.1 assists per game, and her 57 makes from beyond the arc are the most in the GNAC.

Anna Schwecke is a big reason why the Vikings hold a rebounding margin of 38.3-33.4, as she is tied with Stipanovich for the team high at 7.0 boards per game. Schwecke also ranks fourth on the squad in scoring at 8.5 points, and leads the team with 28 blocked shots.

Overall the Vikings are out-scoring the opposition 67.2-64.9. They shoot 42.7 percent from the field, 35.6 percent from long range, and 73.5 percent from the free-throw line.

The Series: MSUB is 15-22 all-time against WWU and has a 4-13 record in games played in Bellingham, Wash. MSUB has won four of the last six games overall dating back to the 2015-16 season.

Last Time Out: Breen had a season-high 31 points, while Kane added 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. For WWU, Casteneda and Stipanovich each had 15 points, and Lexie Bland chipped in a dozen in the first GNAC game of the 2017-18 season.