(MSU Billings release)
BELLINGHAM, Wash. – A season-high 32 points from Alisha Breen and a career-high nine rebounds from Vanessa Stavish led an all-around balanced effort by the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team Saturday night at Sam Carver Gym, as the Yellowjackets topped Western Washington University 76-63 in the 2017-18 Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season finale.
Breen shot 9-for-15 from the floor and made 11 of 12 free throws on the night, while adding six rebounds, three steals, and an assist and a block. Stavish just missed a double-double, as she added 13 points while knocking down 3 of 4 threes on the evening. Rylee Kane checked in with 15 points, while adding four assists and four rebounds in 35 minutes.
“I really liked our intensity all night, and I thought we were more focused than we have been in the last couple of games,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Their posts are very good, but I thought our post play was outstanding on both ends tonight. Vanessa had a great game, and she hit some big threes to give us some breathing room. She did a great job on the boards as well.”
MSUB had a 32-28 lead by halftime, and never looked back as it outscored WWU 44-35 over the final 20 minutes of play. Lexi Prevost and Hannah Collins added six points apiece for the ‘Jackets, while Rachel Koehler hauled in six rebounds to help MSUB out-board WWU 33-32. “Rachel came off the bench and really helped us again especially defensively and off the glass,” Woodin said. “Rylee distributed the ball well, and Hannah had a great week for us overall. Hannah had some key hoops for us and has improved a lot defensively.”
The Vikings’ hopes at a GNAC Championships berth ended with the loss, as they finished the season 12-16 overall and 8-12 in conference play. Kelsey Rogers had a team-high 19 points for WWU, and Gracie Castaneda was in double figures with 11 points while adding seven rebounds.
MSUB meanwhile finished the regular season with a record of 19-11, and wrapped up the No. 4 seed in next week’s conference tournament after going 12-8 in league play. The Yellowjackets will face No. 5 seed Central Washington University in the opening round on Thursday at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, Alaska. “This was a great win for us, and it is nice to win final game before tournament,” said Woodin. “It will be really good for our confidence with the short turnaround next week.
The Vikings edged their way to a 14-13 lead in a back-and-forth opening quarter, but a trey by Stavish helped jump-start MSUB opening the second quarter. Grace Weeks made a layup and Breen hit a three from the top with seven minutes to go before halftime, pushing the spread to 23-19 in favor of the ‘Jackets.
After a missed free throw, the ‘Jackets pressed forward with four seconds on the clock in the first. Collins got a good look off from the wing, but her three rattled out and MSUB settled for a 32-28 halftime advantage.
The ‘Jackets came out firing on an 8-3 run to start the second, and WWU never managed to get over the hump. Lexie Bland hit a three with 1:54 to go in the third to make it a one-possession ballgame, but once again MSUB responded. Stavish knocked down a key three off a feed from Kane, and in the blink of an eye the ‘Jackets had a 56-46 lead by the end of the period. “We bent in the third, but responded very well to retake the lead,” Woodin commented. “Rylee did a great job moving the ball, and the threes Vanessa hit were just huge.”
The Yellowjackets shot 41.5 percent (22-for-53) from the field, and knocked down 6 of 18 threes (33.3 percent) on the night. WWU meanwhile shot 43.9 percent (25-for-57), but struggled from the arc at just 23.5 percent (4-for-17). The ‘Jackets also generated 18 WWU turnovers, while limiting their giveaways to 13 on the evening. “Western has been very good on the boards lately, and we limited them to seven offensive rebounds,” said Woodin. “Also we had less turnovers than them which was another key to our win.”
BREEN, KANE REACH MILESTONES: In the same game, Breen and Kane each passed Yellowjacket all-time great Bobbi Knudsen in points and assists, respectively. Breen ended the night with 1,835 career points, and Kane finished the evening with 533 career assists which are each second-most in school history. Breen’s point total is now third-most in GNAC career history, while Kane’s assist total is fourth-highest in the history of the conference.
THE BUZZ: Stavish was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 16-22 all-time against WWU and is 5-13 in games played in Bellingham…the ‘Jackets have won five of the last seven games dating back to the 2015-16 season…Breen logged her seventh-career 30-point game, which is the third most 30-point games in GNAC history…Breen made it seven consecutive games with 20 or more points, which is tied for second-most in GNAC history…GNAC career scoring leader Erin Chambers had streaks of seven and eight consecutive games with 20 or more points during her career from 2011-14…Saturday marked Breen’s 10th career 10-free throw game, which is third most in GNAC history…Stavish’s previous career high in rebounds was eight, which she achieved two times including this year on Dec. 28 at Seattle Pacific University.
COMING UP: The GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships start next Thursday in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Yellowjackets will square off against Central Washington University. Game times and details will be available online here, and all games at the conference tournament will feature live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics available on a multitude of platforms through GNAC.tv.