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Alisha Breen: Best season in GNAC women’s basketball history

Posted at 3:55 PM, Mar 27, 2018

(Evan O’Kelly – MSUB Sports)

BILLINGS – Alisha Breen scored 31 points in the first game of the 2017-18 Montana State University Billings women’s basketball season.

None of them counted, as they came in an exhibition contest in an 80-75 win over NAIA national semifinalist Montana Western on Nov. 1, but it was a signal that the greatest season in Great Northwest Athletic Conference history was about to unfold.

Forty-one games later, Breen’s career now stands completed with more awards to her name than can be rattled off in a single breath. First-team All-American, NCAA D2 West Region Player of the Year, GNAC Player of the Year, and GNAC Championships Most Valuable player highlight the list.

All subjective analysis aside – Breen won the GNAC Player of the Week award a record five times as well – the numbers she posted this year hold up as some of the most impressive marks the school and conference has ever seen. In total, Breen broke 21 GNAC and MSUB single-season and career records in 2017-18.

But in order to discover just how remarkable Breen’s overall senior campaign was, it must be stacked up against some of the greatest individual seasons in GNAC history.

Before bringing other players into the mix, simply looking at the raw numbers Breen posted builds her case for the best season in conference history.

She broke six GNAC single-season records, including points scored with an unprecedented 791. It was just the second 700-point season in GNAC history, as Breen passed Taylor Peacocke of Western Washington University who scored 745 points in 2016-17. The 20th-highest single-season points total in NCAA Division II history is 799 points, as Breen finished just eight points shy of reaching that plateau.

In terms of scoring average, Breen’s 21.4 points per game ranked No. 11 in the NCAA and it was the fifth-highest mark in GNAC single-season history. Breen reached double figures in every game of the year, scored 20 or more points in 23 games, and had a GNAC-best three 30-point games.

One of Breen’s more remarkable GNAC records came down the finishing stretch of the season, when she put together a stretch of 12-consecutive 20-point games from Feb. 3-March 10. Breen totaled 298 points during the run for an average of 24.8 points per game, and reached her season high of 32 points on Feb. 24 at Western Washington. Breen soared past Erin Chambers’ record of eight-consecutive games with 20 or more points, which she achieved from March 7-Nov. 24, 2014 over the course of two seasons. Evidence of the rarity of such a streak was a separate, four-game stretch in which Breen scored 20 or more from Nov. 30-Dec. 9, 2017, which has only been achieved by 30 total players in the 17-year history of the conference.

A big chunk of Breen’s scoring came from the foul line, where she led the NCAA with a GNAC and MSUB single-season record 226 made free throws. Only one player in GNAC history (Erin Chambers, 2013-14) had more free throw attempts in a single season (231) than Breen’s makes total in 2017-18. She also broke the conference record for free-throw attempts with 259, and her free-throw percentage of 87.3 was third in the conference.

While close to a third of her points came from the foul line, Breen also made a push for the GNAC field goals record as her 247 makes were third-most in conference history. Among the 10th-highest field-goal total in the NCAA were a GNAC-best 71 made 3-pointers, as Breen’s versatility as both a post and a wing shooter made her difficult to guard.

Not only did Breen have her best offensive year, blowing away her 2015-16 total of 557 points and 17.4 per game, but she posted the third-highest rebounding total in GNAC history with 349 boards. Her average of 9.4 rebounds ranked second in the league, and her 18 double-doubles were the most in the GNAC and the fourth-most in the entire NCAA. Breen had a career-high 18 boards against Northwest Nazarene on Nov. 11, and finished the year No. 7 in the NCAA in total rebounds.

While Breen’s primary threat lay in her scoring and rebounding ability, she was also in the top-20 in the GNAC in assists, steals, and blocks. Breen’s 33 denials were the third-highest total in the league, and her average of 0.9 blocks per game was fifth-best. She also maintained a positive assist-turnover ratio of 1.07, and her 95 total assists were the seventh-most in the conference.

Not only did Breen have the best season in the GNAC this year, but a case can be made that it was the most well-rounded season in the NCAA. Among the 10 players who averaged more points than Breen, only Marissa Brown of West Liberty University and Felecity Havens of Mount Olive University had higher rebounding averages at 11.2 and 9.8 boards per game, respectively. Among the same 10 players, Breen was one of only three to have a positive assist-turnover ratio, and her 95 total assists were only bettered by Chelsey Shumpert of Union University (131 assists) and Morgan Arden of Shepherd University (119 assists). Only Shumpert (856) scored more total points than Breen’s 791 this year.

Widely regarded as the most comprehensive singular statistic to evaluate individual performance in basketball, a simplified version of player efficiency rating was used to deduce the top-10 overall seasons in GNAC history. Since team possessions are not available as a statistic at the Division II level, the team pace and league pace elements of the advanced PER formula were unable to be attained. Instead, a basic formula was used:

(Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) – (Turnovers + Missed Field Goals + Missed Free Throws) = Raw Player Efficiency Rating

Breen’s raw efficiency number for 2017-18 is the highest in the history of the GNAC, checking in at 854. When adjust to a per-game basis, Breen’s mark of 23.08 is the sixth-highest ever achieved by a GNAC player.

GNAC Women’s Basketball Top Seasons (Sorted by Efficiency/Game)

Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe Simon Fraser 2012-13 31 207 318 108 162 522 385 73 66 54 40 843 27.1935
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe Simon Fraser 2010-11 24 174 292 104 170 452 283 43 68 50 35 611 25.4583
Jenna Washington Humboldt State 2005-06 28 215 398 124 155 555 248 60 84 49 68 682 24.3571
Kamie Jo Massey Alaska Anchorage 2002-03 26 145 328 92 113 410 286 125 97 74 33 627 24.1154
Kamie Jo Massey Alaska Anchorage 2003-04 27 161 363 130 152 482 253 106 90 69 29 625 23.1481
Alisha Breen MSU Billings 2017-18 37 247 587 226 259 791 349 95 89 48 33 854 23.0811
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe Simon Fraser 2011-12 28 199 350 123 175 521 249 40 66 47 45 633 22.6071
Katie Benson Seattle Pacific 2013-14 27 195 391 121 157 522 245 49 66 49 38 605 22.4074
Alysson Kollmann Northwest Nazarene 2002-03 29 182 361 117 141 511 197 95 84 105 11 632 21.7931
Rebecca Kielpinski Alaska Anchorage 2005-06 27 194 386 133 187 523 267 65 112 32 51 580 21.4815


One of the most dominant players in GNAC history, Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe of Simon Fraser University holds the top-two seasons by measure of efficiency per game, as she was a dual threat offensively under the basket and defensively on the boards. In 31 games played in 2012-13, Raincock-Ekunwe set the GNAC record with 385 rebounds, while averaging 16.9 points and 12.4 boards per game and posting a conference record 24 double-doubles. The All-American was virtually unstoppable under the basket, as her field-goal percentage of 65.1 stands as the conference record as well.

There’s no question that the 6-foot-2 Raincock-Ekunwe was the most dominant post in conference history, though Kamie Jo Massey of Alaska Anchorage also has two of the top-five seasons by measure of efficiency. Massey’s 2002-03 season is perhaps the year that best rivals Breen’s in terms of versatility, and her efficiency per game of 24.12 is fourth-best ever in the GNAC. Massey averaged 15.8 points and 11.0 rebounds, and among the top-10 efficiency-per-game seasons in GNAC history, her 125 assists and 4.81 per game are the most on the list. Massey also had 74 steals that year which is the second-highest total among the 10 elite seasons, and she added 33 blocked shots in 26 games played. Massey was similarly impressive a year later in 2003-04, when she checked in with an efficiency-per-game rating of 23.15 after averaging 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game.

Besides Raincock-Ekunwe and Massey, only Jenna Washington of Humboldt State University had a higher efficiency-per-game rating in a season than Breen. In 2005-06, HSU’s final year as a member of the GNAC, Washington averaged 19.8 points and 8.9 rebounds to contribute to the third-highest PER in conference history at 24.36. Washington shot 54.0 percent from the field and 80.0 percent from the foul line, while averaging 2.14 assists per game. Her 68 blocks stand out as the most among the top-10 elite seasons.

While Breen, who stands 5-foot-10, is sixth on the list in efficiency-per-game, her five GNAC single-season records achieved in 2017-18 are the most among the top-10. Among the elite seasons, Breen is No. 1 in a dozen categories including points (791), points per game (21.4), games played (37), starts (37), minutes (1,337), field goals (247), field-goal attempts (587), 3-pointers (71), 3-point attempts (197), free throws (226), free-throw attempts (259), and free-throw percentage (87.3). She and Raincock-Ekunwe (2012-13) are the only two in the top-10 to be named the GNAC Player of the Year in their respective stellar seasons.

With Breen’s historic numbers came an equally riveting run of team success, as she led the Yellowjackets to the 2018 GNAC Championships tournament title, NCAA Division II west region championship title, and the second Elite Eight appearance in school history. When her team needed her most, Breen was at her best as she averaged 24.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.9 assists over the final 14 games of her career. She was named the GNAC Championships Most Valuable Player, and played 278 of 280 minutes during the seven-game 2018 playoff run.

The ‘Jackets opened the year in similarly impressive fashion, with the best start in program history at 9-0. The seven-game winning streak at the end of the season helped MSUB tie the school record for most wins in single-season history.

While SFU had a stellar 25-6 record during Raincock-Ekunwe’s dominant 2012-13 campaign, their season ended in the GNAC Championships title game with a 75-58 loss to Western Washington. In 2010-11 SFU went 7-17 and missed the playoffs.

Washington’s ‘Jacks made it to a regional tournament after a third-place GNAC finish in 2005-06, but their season ended at 17-11 with an 83-69 loss to Chico State in the opening round.

Despite Massey’s remarkable two seasons, the Seawolves went just 11-15 in 2002-03 and 13-14 in 2003-04 to miss the playoffs.

A major factor in Breen’s astronomical numbers was the sheer volume of games and minutes she played, due to her team’s run of success late in the year. While other GNAC greats shouldn’t be punished for being on lesser-achieving teams, the fact that Breen’s squad in 2017-18 was far-and-away the highest achiever among the top-10 best seasons speaks to her leadership capabilities on the court. She would not have had the opportunity to achieve many of the records she did had it not been for the long extension of the season and the extra games her team played.

Off the court, Breen is one of two players among the top-10 in efficiency-per-game to earn CoSIDA Academic All-American honors. Katie Benson of Seattle Pacific, who had the eighth-highest PER at 22.41 in 2013-14, was a second-team Academic All-American that season as well.

Perhaps the most impressive factor within Breen’s historic season is the fact that it was supposed to unfold a year earlier. She was named the GNAC Preseason Player of the Year in 2015-16, before a torn ACL in the preseason sidelined her for the entirety of the campaign.

Players aren’t supposed to come back from one of the most devastating injuries in sports and lead the nation in minutes played, but MSUB’s success was reliant on Breen being on the court virtually nonstop. Before she could walk again, in December of 2016, it was unfathomable that she would have a chance to score exactly 791 points and break the MSUB all-time scoring record by a single point. But Breen did that too.

None of the other top seasons in GNAC history had a twist quite like coming on the heels of a torn ACL, which moves what Breen achieved to the top of the list.

Alisha Breen Records Set in 2017-18

GNAC Season MSUB Season GNAC Career MSUB Career
Points 791 Points 791 Points 2001 Points 2001
Minutes 1337 Minutes 1337 Minutes 4174 Games 130
Free Throws 226 Free Throws 226 Free Throws 569 Wins 85
F.T. Att. 259 F.G. Att. 587 F.T. Att. 692 Free Throws 569
F.G. Att. 587 Con. 20-Pt. Games 12 F.T. Att. 692
GNAC P.O.T.W. 5 Scoring Titles 2