(MSUB Athletics release)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Surviving a quarterfinal matchup against Central Washington University on Thursday, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team won its opening game of the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships 75-73 at the Alaska Airlines Center.
On a night where her point total matched her jersey number, senior Rylee Kane converted a huge three-point play with 2:45 left in the game that broke a 66-66 deadlock. Though the drama was far from over, the Yellowjackets never relinquished the lead over an intense final few minutes.
MSUB improved to 20-11 on the year with the win, and will play No. 1 seed Northwest Nazarene University in the semifinals on Friday evening. Tipoff is set for 5:15 p.m. Alaska Standard Time. “Give Central credit as they chipped away, and it was a bit of a crazy fourth quarter,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Both teams played very hard in the second half, and it was hard to pull away. I liked the composure we had late, and Rylee and Hannah with those back-to-back plays was big to get us some breathing room.”
Taylor Baird reached her team-high point total of 18 on a layup with 37 seconds left, helping CWU pull within a single possession down 75-73. The Yellowjackets failed to score after using the entirety of the shot clock the next time down the court, and CWU had another chance to tie it with seven seconds left.
A layup by Alexis Pana, who was all over the floor with nine points, six assists, and three boards, wouldn’t fall and the ‘Jackets sealed the win. Central Washington ended its 2017-18 season with an overall record of 15-14.
GNAC Player of the Year Alisha Breen led all players with 26 points, 18 of which came in the first half as she set the tone offensively. Breen added 10 rebounds to complete her 15th double-double of the year, while dishing out three assists and playing all 40 minutes. “Alisha was special as usual, and she really had it going in the first half,” said Woodin. “She just takes what the defense gives her, and she can impact the game in many different ways.”
Kane knocked down a pair of threes in the opening three minutes to account for the Yellowjackets’ first six points of the evening. “Rylee was excellent all night, and she had great poise,” said Woodin, referring to Kane picking up her third foul early in the second quarter. “She played really smart and was effective without fouling in the second half. She shot the ball well from all phases of the game. She had a very nice game.”
Rachel Koehler was the ignitor during a key burst for the ‘Jackets, grabbing three rebounds and dishing three assists over the span of four minutes in the opening quarter. Breen meanwhile locked into the zone early, scoring a dozen points in the opening quarter to help the ‘Jackets to a 25-16 advantage.
CWU closed the gap however, gaining momentum midway through the second quarter. Pana hit a trey to snap an 0-for-7 start from the arc by the ‘Cats, as CWU found other ways to score after Baird picked up her third foul with a dozen points.
The ‘Cats out-paced the ‘Jackets 17-14 in the second quarter, and narrowed the deficit to just 39-33 by halftime. “I really liked our first half, and offensively we had good spacing,” said Woodin. “We passed the ball well and got some buckets in transition, and both Rylee and Alisha were very effective. We got into a nice rhythm in the second quarter, but foul trouble hurt us towards the end of the half.”
Vanessa Stavish hit a big three with three minutes left in the third, pushing MSUB ahead 51-44. Indicating how the rest of the game would go, Taylor Shaw followed with a trey and the ‘Cats pulled within a single possession down 52-49.
The Wildcats nearly completed the comeback in the fourth quarter, but the ‘Jacket defense held strong and the team answered on key offensive possessions. Jasmin Edwards put in an open layup with four minutes left to cut the spread to 64-62, but Kane answered with an open look of her own on the very next time down the court.
Kaelie Flores hit consecutive buckets inside of four minutes to play, pulling the Wildcats even at 66-66 for the first time since the beginning of the game. Hannah Collins came through with a steal at mid-court, and made the breakaway layup to instantly build MSUB’s lead to five points directly after Kane’s big three-point play.
Edwards finished the game with 13 points and six assists for CWU, and Shaw was also in double figures with 13 points. CWU shot 42.9 percent from the floor (30-for-70), but made just 4 of 16 threes on the night and 9 of 13 foul shots. The Yellowjackets meanwhile shot 45.5 percent from the field, including a solid 7-for-14 line from 3-point range. CWU protected the ball well, with just 10 turnovers while generating 14 from MSUB. “Central is a good team, and I am excited that we were able to survive and advance,” said Woodin. “A key to our win was out-scoring them from the 3-point line. Offensively they are very good and they have some talented players, but we kept battling. Vanessa played very well towards the end of the second half, and we really needed that.”
THE BUZZ: Kane was tabbed the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…the ‘Jackets are now 25-11 all-time against the Wildcats and are 4-1 in neutral-site games…the nine free throws were a career high for Kane…Breen’s 15 double-doubles this year are tied for sixth-most in a single season in GNAC history…Breen’s 295 rebounds this year are the eighth-most in GNAC single-season history…Thursday marked MSUB’s third win of the year over CWU…Edwards finished her remarkable four-year career as the GNAC’s all-time leader in minutes played with 4,134.
AHEAD: The Yellowjackets earned a trip to the GNAC semifinals on Friday, where they’ll face top-seeded Northwest Nazarene University. Tipoff is set for 5:15 p.m. Alaska time, and live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through GNAC.tv. The winner advances to Saturday night’s GNAC title game.