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MSU Billings, Alaska Anchorage clash for NCAA West Region title

Posted at 6:28 PM, Mar 11, 2018

(MSU Billings release)

AZUSA, Calif. – Three Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball teams defeated Montana State University Billings twice during the 2017-18 regular season, but the Yellowjackets have already paid two of them back by bouncing them from the conference tournament last week.

Only No. 13 University of Alaska Anchorage remains among the conference opponents MSUB is yet to defeat this year, and the ‘Jackets will get their chance in the NCAA Division II west region title game on Monday night.

The Yellowjackets (24-11) are one win away from tying the school record for wins in a season, and look to win the second regional title in program history and the first since the 1998-99 Elite Eight squad. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Pacific time on Monday at the Felix Event Center on the campus of Azusa Pacific University. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online here.

Three of MSUB’s last four victories came against teams that it had gone a combined 0-5 against during the 2017-18 regular season. The ‘Jackets topped Northwest Nazarene University 76-69 in the GNAC tournament semifinals, before downing Seattle Pacific University 71-61 to win the GNAC Championships title.

In the opening round of the regional tournament, MSUB beat No. 19 Hawaii Pacific 76-65, avenging a 79-52 loss to the Sharks in Honolulu on Dec. 19. On Saturday night in the regional semifinals, the ‘Jackets held on for a 75-73 win over No. 23 UC San Diego, topping another team they lost to in the last meeting (88-60 on Nov. 11, 2016).

UAA beat MSUB 81-60 in Billings, Mont., on Jan. 6, and completed the season sweep with a 73-63 win in Anchorage, Alaska on Feb. 1. UAA has won nine in-a-row in the series, with MSUB’s last victory coming on March 1, 2014 preceding its most recent run to the regional title game.

All-Time Series (61 meetings): UAA 35, MSUB 26
2017-18 Results: No. 6 UAA 81, MSUB 60 (1/6/17 at Billings, MT) | No. 8 UAA 73, MSUB 63 (2/1/18 at Anchorage, AK)
Neutral Site: UAA 1, MSUB 0
Last 10: UAA 9, MSUB 1
Postseason: MSUB 1, UAA 1

Monday will be the third-ever postseason matchup between the teams, with each team winning once before. UAA won 77-57 in the 2016 GNAC Championships title game, and MSUB won 76-59 in the 1994 Far West playoffs.

MSU Billings
G – Rylee Kane, SR, Red Lodge, MT
G – Lexi Prevost, SR, Sidney, MT
F – Alisha Breen, SR, Choteau, MT
F – Taylor Cunningham, SO, Spokane, WA
F – Vanessa Stavish, JR, Frenchtown, MT

This reliable five, laden with veteran experience, has been the starting lineup in 31 of 35 games this season for the ‘Jackets.

Alaska Anchorage
G – Yazmeen Goo, SO, Daly City, CA
G – Tara Thompson, JR, Anchorage, AK
G – Kian McNair, JR, Vallejo, CA
F – Shelby Cloninger, SR, Kamiah, ID
F – Hannah Wandersee, JR, Kodiak, AK

The Seawolves have started with four guards in each of their last three games, with Sala Langi taking the spot of Shelby Cloninger as of late. The senior Coninger has started 25 times this year however, including each of the previous games against MSUB, and could get the nod on Monday.

The winner of Monday’s Sweet 16 matchup will advance to the NCAA Division II finals, which run March 19-23 in Sioux Falls, S.D. For MSUB it would be the second regional crown in school history. For Anchorage it would be the second regional title in the last three years, as the Seawolves claimed the regional crown en route to their national runner-up finish in 2016.

The 14th regional tournament run in school history has the potential to be the most memorable, as MSUB would tie the school record for wins and the deepest postseason venture with a win on Monday. The 1998-99 Yellowjackets went 25-6, winning the PacWest Conference championship and the NCAA D2 West Region Championship before falling to Arkansas Tech 68-56 in the Elite Eight. The ‘Jackets have reached 25 wins in a season on two other occasions, most recently in 2013-14 (25-8) and for the first time in 1990-91 (25-5).

In his 14th season in charge of MSUB’s women’s basketball program, MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin is the Yellowjackets’ all-time winningest coach as he enters Monday’s game at 242-167 (.592). Since taking over at the beginning of the 2004-05 season, Woodin’s teams have qualified for the NCAA regionals five times and have had five 20-win seasons. He is a four-time conference coach of the year, most recently being named GNAC Coach of the Year in 2015-16.

In the most important games of her career, senior Rylee Kane has been unstoppable on both ends of the court. In MSUB’s five playoff wins so far, she is averaging 21.4 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks, and has an efficiency rating of 22.4 per game. In the semifinal win over UC San Diego, Kane was nearly perfect as she scored a career-high 31 points while dishing out seven assists, grabbing seven rebounds, and posting three steals against just one turnover in 38 minutes.

The Red Lodge, Mont., native has continued her incredible streak of longevity, as she has now started all 123 of MSUB’s games since she debuted as a freshman in 2014. Only Rebecca Kielpinski of Alaska Anchorage has a longer streak of consecutive starts (126), and she and Kane are the only two players in GNAC history to start 100 percent of their team’s games during a four-year career. Kane enters Monday’s championship game No. 4 in GNAC history with 554 assists, and her 170 assists this season are ninth-most in GNAC single-season history. Kane has had at least one assist in 101 consecutive games.

Kane now has 1,190 points in her career, and is on the verge of reaching 500 in her best season as a Yellowjacket. Entering Monday’s game, Kane is No. 2 in the GNAC with 493 points, trailing only teammate Alisha Breen. She is also tied for sixth in the league with a scoring average of 14.1 points per game.

GNAC Women’s Basketball All-Time Assists Leaders (as of March 11, 2018)

Rank Name School Assists Seasons
1 Kiki Robertson Alaska Anchorage 700 2013-17
2 Ellen Kett Simon Fraser 692 2013-17
3 Jasmin Edwards Central Washington 568 2014-18
4 Rylee Kane
MSU Billings 554 2014-18
5 Bobbi Knudsen
MSU Billings 532 2010-14

Senior Alisha Breen broke both the GNAC career and single-season scoring records in Saturday’s semifinal win, as she stands atop the conference’s all-time greats with 1,960 career points and 750 this season. With 27 points against UCSD, Breen extended her GNAC record streak of consecutive games of 20 or more points to 12, as she is averaging 24.8 points since Feb. 3.

GNAC Women’s Basketball Career Scoring Leaders (as of March 11, 2018)

Rank Name School Points Seasons
1 Alisha Breen
MSU Billings 1960 2013-15, 17-18
2 Erin Chambers Simon Fraser 1946 2011-15
3 Taylor Peacocke Western Washington 1940 2013-17
4 Bobbi Knudsen
MSU Billings 1831 2010-14
5 Jordan Wilson Alaska 1783 2013-17
6 Rebecca Kielpinski Alaska Anchorage 1752 2005-09
7 Rose Shaw Central Washington 1696 1998-2002
8 Amanda Dunbar Western Washington 1654 2007-11
9 Katie Benson Seattle Pacific 1645 2010-14
10 Nicole Lynch Humboldt State 1623 2001-05

Entering Monday’s game, Breen leads the NCAA Division II in minutes played (1,258) and free throws (213), and is No. 10 in scoring at 21.4 points per game.

The Yellowjackets managed to beat UC San Diego despite being out-rebounded 48-31 including a margin of 15-0 on offensive boards. Though MSUB gave up 15 second-chance points, they scored 14 points off of turnovers as the defense came through by generating nine turnovers. By contrast, MSUB committed just six turnovers, which was its second-fewest giveaways of the season.

MSUB will have to be equally cautious with the ball on Monday, as UAA ranks No. 5 in the NCAA with 14.2 steals per game and is No. 11 in the nation with an average of 22.7 turnovers generated per game.