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Still dancin’: MSU Billings women reach NCAA West Regional title game

Posted at 8:56 PM, Mar 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 16:37:03-04

(MSU Billings release)

AZUSA, Calif. – Alisha Breen broke the Great Northwest Athletic Conference career and single-season scoring records at the Felix Event Center on Saturday night, and the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team defeated No. 23 UC San Diego 75-73 to advance to the NCAA Division II West Region Championships title game.

Rylee Kane had a career-high 31 points, and carried the ‘Jackets to victory with seven rebounds and seven assists. With the ‘Jackets trailing 70-67 and 1:33 left in the game, Kane scored four straight points to push the advantage back into her team’s hands.

After a pair of clutch free throws by Hannah Collins, UCSD had a shot to tie the score with 20 seconds left. Sydney Sharp, who had punished the ‘Jackets with three late 3-pointers to that point in the game, watched as her attempt from the wing circled the rim and missed, and Kane grabbed her final rebound before icing the game with two more free throws.

Sharp made a final three the next time down, but time ran out and the ‘Jackets burst onto the court to celebrate the iconic victory. MSUB returns to the west region title game for the third time in program history, with its most recent appearance coming in 2013-14 in a loss to No. 1 seed Cal Poly Pomona. The Yellowjackets’ best finish in school history came in 1998-99 when they won the regional title and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.

MSUB (24-11) will play the winner of No. 5 seed Alaska Anchorage and No. 8 seed Humboldt State, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Kane was 11-for-15 from the field, 2-for-2 from 3-point range, and made all seven of her free throws on a night where MSUB was a perfect 15-for-15 from the line. She also had three steals, and committed just one turnover while playing 38 minutes. “I don’t know that I have ever seen a guard play better, on my team or the other team, in a high-pressure, tournament game like this,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “She did everything for us tonight, and I think it was as close to perfection as you can be.”

Breen had 13 points by the end of the opening quarter, and passed Simon Fraser University great Erin Chambers for No. 1 in GNAC career history with a jumper two minutes into the second quarter. She finished the game with 1,960 points, and now has 750 on the season which is also a conference record. Breen passed Taylor Peacocke of Western Washington University, who established the mark of 745 points last year, with a pair of free throws in the third quarter.

The Yellowjackets won despite being out-rebounded 48-31, and UCSD had 15 offensive rebounds while MSUB had none. The ‘Jackets could not stop Dalayna Sampton, who had a massive 30-point, 12-rebound double-double and dominated with her post play. MSUB committed just six turnovers however, their second-fewest giveaways of the year. The Tritons meanwhile had nine turnovers, which the ‘Jackets converted into 14 points.

Just as she did in Friday’s win over No. 19 Hawaii Pacific, Kane got off to a hot start as she scored seven points and had an assist in the first three minutes of the game. She and Breen had threes on back-to-back possessions, and the ‘Jackets jumped out to an early 13-6 advantage. The ‘Jackets parlayed that into a 27-17 edge by the end of the first, a key burst that paid off in the form of early momentum.

Sampton went to work in the second quarter, scoring 10 straight points, and narrowing the gap to 31-29. The ‘Jackets meanwhile cooled off significantly, enduring an 0-for-9 slump from the arc after starting the game 5-for-5 from distance.

Breen snapped the skid with a trey from the top two minutes before halftime, giving her 18 points and the team a 34-29 lead.

Vanessa Stavish converted a three-point play to rebuild MSUB’s lead to 39-33 early on in the third quarter. Stavish finished the night with eight points and four rebounds, while playing 27 minutes. Momentum swung back and forth in the third, but the ‘Jackets kept a grip on the lead with a 19-18 advantage in the quarter.

Sharp tied the game at 55-55 with a three with 7:30 to go, but Stavish answered immediately with a jumper to give MSUB the edge once again. Sharp went on to hit a pair of treys however, and a third by Kayla Sato gave UCSD a 70-67 lead with 1:33 to play.

Kane refused to let her team slip away, as her late heroics nudged MSUB back in front for good. The ‘Jackets made 26 of 59 shots in the game (44.1 percent), and hit 8 of 26 threes (30.8 percent). UCSD got back into the game with 7-for-13 accuracy from the arc in the second half, after starting the game just 1-for-5 in the opening half. Overall the Tritons made 27 of 72 shots from the floor (37.5 percent).

THE BUZZ: Kane was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 4-1 all-time against UCSD…Kane’s previous career high was 28 points, which she reached on Feb. 22, 2018 at Simon Fraser University…Breen extended her GNAC record streak of consecutive games with 20 or more points to 12.

COMING UP: Monday’s championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Pacific time, and live coverage will be available online here.