(MSU Billings release)
ANCHORAGE, Alas. – A gutsy showing lifted the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team to a 76-69 upset of top-seeded Northwest Nazarene University on Friday night at the Alaska Airlines Center, as the Yellowjackets advanced to the title game of the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships.
The Yellowjackets (21-11) avenged a pair of regular-season losses to the Nighthawks, and returned to the GNAC title game after reaching it during the 2015-16 season. Northwest Nazarene moved to 22-4 on the year, and will compete in the NCAA Division II west region championships next week.
“We got a lot of confidence last Saturday at Western Washington, and we have been able to carry it on winning a close game against Central last night,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin citing Thursday’s 75-73 quarterfinal win over Central Washington. “We are very focused right now and things are coming together. We aren’t beating ourselves, and we have a strong senior class. They are all doing a good job contributing and keeping us poised with their leadership.”
Facing a heavy, full-court press for the entirety of the game, Kane and freshman Hannah Collins handled themselves masterfully and helped MSUB keep possession. Collins darted around the back court, often times splitting multiple defenders, and worked off her seniors as the ‘Jackets strategically dismantled NNU’s strength defensively.
“The last two nights when our opponents got back into the game, we re-asserted ourselves the next two minutes to take back the game,” said Woodin. “We handled their pressure very well over the last 12 minutes of the game, and having both Rylee and Hannah in together gave us two point guards on the court which really helped.”
Alisha Breen led all players with 27 points, and broke the GNAC single-season record for made free throws as she went 11-for-12 from the line and now has 195 on the season. Rylee Kane added 17 points and six assists, and senior Rachel Koehler was crucial off the bench with a season-high 11 points.
Perhaps the pivotal shot of the night was a wide-open trey by Koehler – only her second made three of the season – that backed up a corner three by Lexi Prevost early in the fourth quarter. Before the six-point swing, MSUB had conceded the lead for the first time and was down 62-61. The ‘Jackets outscored the Hawks 14-8 over the final eight minutes of the game, and kept their season alive.
Danielle Jardine led NNU with 17 points, while McKenna Walker had 14 and Avery Albrecht finished with 10. MSUB limited first-team all-GNAC star Lexi Tubbs to just seven points in 37 minutes, and NNU had 21 turnovers leading to 20 Yellowjacket points.
Kane knocked down her first shot of the night, and followed with an assist to Taylor Cunningham to give MSUB its first lead at 10-8. Breen drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with three seconds left in the first, and converted a pair of free throws to make the score 18-18 after 10 minutes of play.
Breen’s first trey of the night made MSUB’s lead 35-32, and after an NNU turnover Prevost drilled a three from the corner with 1:55 to go before the break. Jardine completed a three-point play to cut the deficit to 42-35, but on the final possession of the half NNU failed to get a shot away and the ‘Jackets took a 44-36 edge into the locker room.
A driving layup by Kane and a wide-open three by Breen right out of the gate in the second helped keep the spread at nine points at 49-40. The Nighthawks made a strong push midway through the third however, almost entirely on the shoulders of Albrecht.
All 10 of her points came in the span of five minutes, and provided a key scoring burst that cut her team’s deficit to a single possession at 57-55. Carly Parker hit a pair of free throws to tie the score at 57-57, but a reverse layup by Kane and two more free throws from Breen prevented NNU from taking the lead. “Tonight’s win was amazing because NNU had beaten us pretty good a few times, and we played a consistent fourth quarter.” Said Woodin. “We have to give them credit as we had a hard time guarding Albrecht in the third quarter.”
Jardine flipped in back-to-back layups to open the fourth quarter, and the Hawks reclaimed a 62-61 lead. After the consecutive threes by Prevost and Koehler however, the ‘Jackets made it a 70-64 ballgame with just under six minutes to go.
As intensity escalated offense came to a grinding halt, as neither team made a field goal for almost six full minutes after Koehler’s three. Walker hit a trey with 17 seconds on the clock to make it 73-69, but two more foul shots by Breen iced the game and sparked a celebration on the court for MSUB.
MSUB finished the game shooting 47.3 percent (26-for-55), and knocked down 5 of 14 threes. NNU meanwhile shot 45.1 percent (23-for-51), and made 6 of 12 shots from beyond the arc.
THE BUZZ: Koehler was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 18-13 all-time against NNU and is 2-1 in neutral site games…Breen surpassed Simon Fraser University’s Erin Chambers, who established the GNAC free-throw record with 191 makes in the 2013-14 season…she also surpassed Chambers and became the first player in GNAC history to score 20 or more points in nine consecutive games.
COMING UP: Saturday’s title game will be streamed live on ESPN 3 and the Watch ESPN App. Live statistics will be available online via www.msubsports.com. MSUB will play the winner of No. 2 Alaska Anchorage and No. 3 Seattle Pacific, the second semifinal game of the evening.