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MSU Billings women open 18 straight GNAC games Thursday

Posted at 8:33 PM, Jan 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-02 22:33:16-05

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS, Mont. – A run of 18 straight Great Northwest Athletic Conference games lies ahead for the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team, which resumes its season this weekend at Alterowitz Gym.

The Yellowjackets (4-4, 0-2 GNAC) host Saint Martin’s University (4-8, 1-2) on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Seattle Pacific University (4-6, 3-0) on Saturday in a 2 p.m. game at Alterowitz Gym. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available for both games through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal online.

“It will be great to get back into action this week, and I am happy that we are at home,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “It has been nice to get back to practice and we are hoping to improve on our current standing in the GNAC.”

MSUB last competed at the NCAA D2 Daytona Beach Shootout in Florida before a two-week holiday break. The ‘Jackets topped Maryville University 48-47 on December 18 before falling 89-66 at the hands of No. 21 Angelo State University the next day.

Now turning its attention towards its league schedule, MSUB will fight for a top-six finish in the GNAC regular-season standings in order to earn a trip to the conference tournament March 7-9 in Bellingham, Washington.

SHELLEY STEPPING UP: Freshman forward Taryn Shelley has continued to improve with each outing this season, and will look to pick up where she left off before the break. Putting together a 19-point, 15-rebound double-double against Maryville highlighted her two-game performance last time out, which was good enough to earn her first-career GNAC Player of the Week award. Shelley’s average of 6.9 rebounds per game is highest on the team, and it ranks No. 8 in the GNAC. The Shoreline, Washington, native also averages 7.1 points and ranks third in the league with 1.6 blocks per game.

EDWARDS GETS ROLLING: Senior Taylor Edwards broke out against Angelo State with her best performance of the year, scoring 13 points including 3 of 6 accuracy from 3-point range. Edwards shook off an offensive slump and had her first double-figure scoring game of the season, while playing 29 minutes in her seventh start of the year. The shooting guard has shown offensive promise in the past, averaging 7.3 points per game in 2016-17 before her season was cut short after 11 games due to injury.

COLLINS AMONG GNAC LEADERS: Sophomore point guard Hannah Collins has already established herself as one of the league’s top players, and entering the week ranks third in the GNAC with 15.3 points per game. She is also No. 6 in the conference with 4.3 assists per game, and has had at least one assist in all seven games she has played.

STAVISH SHOWS STRONG: Senior forward Vanessa Stavish had one of her top performances of the year against Maryville, scoring 14 points and hauling in a season-high seven rebounds. Her average of 12.5 points per game is third on the team and No. 14 in the GNAC, and she has made her last nine free throws. A threat from the arc during her career, Stavish is also on the verge of cracking into MSUB’s top-10 in career made 3-pointers. She enters the week with 123, needing three more to pass No. 10 Kayla McPherson’s mark of 125 (2006-09).

Through her first eight games, Stavish is enjoying her most productive offensive season to date as she is averaging three points more than her previous best of 9.5 points during the 2017-18 season. Stavish has scored 687 points in her career, and has reached double figures in 6 of 8 games this season.

HULL HITTING FROM ARC: Senior Brina Hull delivered a 12-point performance against Angelo State, her second double-figure scoring game of the year. The points came thanks to a career-high four 3-pointers, where she has been a reliable threat over the last four seasons. Hull’s career mark of 34.4 percent from long range ranks No. 10 in MSUB history, and she has been red hot this season at 52.2 percent (12-for-23). That figure is second best in the conference, as she trails only Concordia University’s Abby Zhang at 66.7 percent (12-for-18).

WILLIAMS BREAKS OUT, AGAIN: Junior forward Janessa Williams scored a career-high 16 points in the game against Angelo State, making 6 of 8 shots from the floor in just 22 minutes of action. That topped her previous best of 15 points, which she achieved on November 16 against Chadron State. Overall Williams is averaging 5.0 points while playing 14.1 minutes per game.

LEMELIN DOES A BIT OF EVERYTHING: Junior guard Jeanann Lemelin has had balanced efforts throughout the season, and the Yellowjackets’ last games were no exception. Though she scored just two points against Maryville, her six rebounds were crucial in the low-scoring, defensive affair. She followed that with seven points and four assists against Angelo State, while playing a career-high 38 minutes and running the point for the ‘Jackets. The Billings native is already having her best season by far with career highs in scoring (6.0), assists (2.5), and rebounding (3.4). Lemelin has also reached the career minimum of 50 attempts to qualify for 3-point field-goal percentage, and her mark of 36.2 percent (25-for-69) from the arc is No. 4 all-time at MSUB.

PLAYING FROM BEHIND: The Yellowjackets started the 2018-19 season playing well in the opening 10 minutes, averaging 18.6 points in the first quarter through the first five games of the season. The team has struggled since then however, with three straight games scoring just six points in the first quarter. A 15-point effort in the opening period against Angelo State was a positive, but MSUB is still looking to respond from its three lowest-scoring openers of the year.

The slow starts were critical in MSUB’s two conference losses, as they trailed Simon Fraser University by 13 points after 10 minutes in an eventual seven-point defeat. Two days later the ‘Jackets trailed 15-6 at Western Washington and had to battle back in a frustrating 63-57 setback. “Our challenge is to be more consistent, and we need to get off to better starts in games,” commented Woodin. “We have struggled with first-quarter scoring over the past month. Defensively, finishing possessions is important and we need to limit second-chance opportunities by our opponents.”

Saint Martin’s University Saints
Thursday, January 3 – 7 PM – Alterowitz Gym
2018-19 Record: 4-8, 1-2 GNAC
Head Coach: Christy Martin, 2nd season
2017-18 Record: 8-20, 4-16 GNAC (10th place)

The Saints suffered a tough 68-64 setback on Tuesday night at the hands of Seattle Pacific, and have lost three of their last four heading into Thursday’s game at MSUB. SMU’s lone GNAC win was an 81-68 triumph over Concordia University on December 1.

Reigning GNAC Freshman of the Year Saniah Simpson-Patu, who has already won GNAC Player of the Week once this season, is the conference’s leader in scoring at 16.6 points per game. She has reached double figures in 11 of 12 games, and came through with a career-best 34 against Hawaii Pacific last month.

SMU has two other double-figure scorers, including Makenna Schultz (13.7 ppg) and Claire Dingus (11.1 ppg). Dingus is also the team’s leader with 8.8 rebounds per game, a figure that ranks second in the GNAC. In addition to Simpson-Patu and Dingus, Jayla Russ is the other SMU player to have started all 12 contests.

Overall SMU is near even in scoring, averaging 68.3 points per game while surrendering 68.5. The Saints enjoy a 41.3-35.0 edge in rebounding, and shoot 38.7 percent overall, 31.3 percent from the arc, and 67.5 percent from the free-throw line.

“Saint Martin’s has improved a lot from a year ago, and has impressed me on film,” Woodin said. “They have great team balance and get scoring from many people. Simpson-Patu is very explosive and difficult to defend. They are a complete team that can score from all three levels on the floor.”

The Series: MSUB is 27-11 all-time against SMU and holds a dominant 15-2 record at Alterowitz Gym. MSUB has won three in-a-row, six of the last seven, and 11 straight on its home court against the Saints.

Last Time Out: MSUB claimed both games in the season series last year, winning 58-56 in Lacey, Washington on December 30 before a 69-61 triumph in Billings on January 25. Stavish had a dozen points in the road win and 11 more at home to lead MSUB.

Seattle Pacific University Falcons
Saturday, January 5 – 7 PM – Alterowitz Gym
2018-19 Record: 4-6, 3-0 GNAC
Head Coach: Mike Simonson, 1st season
2017-18 Record: 23-8, 15-5 GNAC (3rd place)

Despite a losing overall record, the Falcons enter Saturday’s game at the top of the GNAC standings as they improved to 3-0 with Tuesday’s win at Saint Martin’s. SPU also knocked off Concordia 75-64 and Western Oregon 73-68 in December.

Riley Evans is the Falcons’ top scorer, checking in with 15.5 points per game. She has started all 10 contests this season, and is one of the league’s premier 3-point shooters at 43.3 percent with a GNAC-third best 26 makes. Cici West is SPU’s other double-digit scorer, with 10.7 points per game. The Portland State University transfer is the GNAC leader in rebounding at 9.3 boards per game as well.

Jaylee Albert and Carly Rataushk join Evans and West to comprise a core of four players that has started every game of the year. Albert averages 9.7 points with a team-high 42 assists, while Rataushk is close behind at 8.4 points per game.

The Falcons are being out-scored 72.8-69.6 on the year, and are being out-rebounded 38.0-36.3. SPU shoots 42.4 percent overall, 41.7 percent from 3-point range, and 67.0 percent from the free-throw line.

“SPU has great team speed again this season,” said Woodin. “They have depth on the perimeter, and Riley Evans has been playing great for them. We need to get back defensively and be effective in the post area on offense against them. Tempo will be very important in this game, and half-court execution is a must for us.”

The Series: The Falcons hold a 31-21 all-time advantage over the ‘Jackets, but are just 8-14 in games played in Billings. SPU has won five of the last six, seven of the last nine, and 10 of the last 13 games dating back to 2013.

Last Time Out: Though the Falcons won 70-61 in Seattle and 66-50 in Billings to sweep the regular season last year, the ‘Jackets got revenge with a memorable 71-61 win in the GNAC Championships title game to claim their first-ever tournament crown. Collins had 13 points and seven rebounds in the championship-winning performance last March in Anchorage, Alaska.