MSU Billings women open 4-game road swing in Alaska Thursday

(MSUB Athletics release)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Bidding farewell to balmy Billings, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team heads to the Last Frontier this week for a pair of Great Northwest Athletic Conference games.

Temperatures are forecast in the low single digits for Thursday’s game against No. 14 University of Alaska Anchorage, which tips off at 7 p.m. Alaska time/9 p.m. Mountain time. Things get frigid after that, moving into the -20s in Fairbanks where the ‘Jackets will get out of town after facing the University of Alaska at 2 p.m. Alaska time/4 p.m. Mountain on Saturday. Both games will feature live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics, available through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal online here.

“Alaska is always a tough trip to make, but it is nice to do it when our players are still out of classes this year,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin, whose team begins its spring semester of academics next week. “Anchorage is again very talented. We will need to have poise against their pressure and hit threes when we get good looks. Fairbanks has a new coach and system, and has been playing much better as of late. They nearly upset Western (Washington) last week and played Anchorage tough last night. It is always a tough place to play, and we will need to execute in late-game situations.”

MSUB (6-4, 2-2 GNAC) will face another road test next week, completing the four-game stretch away from Alterowitz Gym at Central Washington University next Thursday and at No. 5 Northwest Nazarene University next Saturday. The Yellowjackets, who are a perfect 4-0 at home, next play in Billings on Jan. 24 against Concordia and Jan. 26 against Western Oregon.

“I am excited to see how we play this week on the road,” Woodin said. “That is the next step for our team: We need to learn how to win on the road in the GNAC. It is difficult to do, but is very rewarding when you accomplish it.”

Winning both games last week, the Yellowjackets pulled their GNAC record even with a 75-67 win over Saint Martin’s University last Thursday and a 72-64 win over Seattle Pacific University last Saturday. That performance got MSUB back into the GNAC mix, in a tie for sixth place as the early conference standings begin to take shape.

“I was pleased with our games last week, and it was nice to get two wins,” commented Woodin. “Offensively we made some strides in the right direction. We shot the ball better from the perimeter, and had a balanced attack. Our rebounding was much better on both ends and our defense was the key to our success last week.”

FOND MEMORIES: The last time the ‘Jackets played at the Alaska Airlines Center, they recorded an historic 71-61 win over Seattle Pacific University to claim their first-ever GNAC tournament title on March 3, 2018. The last time MSUB squared off against UAA, it was a narrow 71-70 win in Azusa, California to claim the university’s second-ever west region title and berth into the NCAA D2 Elite Eight on March 12.

SHELLEY DOUBLES UP AGAIN: Furthering her status as one of the top freshmen in the GNAC, forward Taryn Shelley had two double-doubles last week to help lead the ‘Jackets to their wins. Shelley was limited to just 17 minutes due to foul trouble against Saint Martin’s, but that didn’t stop her from leading all players with 11 rebounds while adding 11 points. After that she came through with 17 points and 10 boards against the Falcons, upping her total to three double-doubles this season.

Overall on the week Shelley shot 75.0 percent from the field (12-for-16), made both of her 3-pointers, and added four blocks. She is among 12 players in the GNAC shooting above 50.0 percent from the field on the season, as she checks in at 52.2 percent. She is the top freshman in the league in field-goal percentage, and blocked shots (1.7), and is No. 3 among freshmen in rebounding at 7.6 per game.

COLLINS KEEPS PACE: Sophomore Hannah Collins totaled 29 points in MSUB’s two games last week, keeping her scoring average at No. 3 in the GNAC at 15.1 points per game. She is also No. 5 in the league with 4.2 assists per game, while shooting 42.1 percent overall, 40.5 percent from 3-point range, and 85.4 percent from the free-throw line.

CUNNINGHAM STRONG IN RETURN: After missing more than a month due to injury, junior forward Taylor Cunningham came back in stellar fashion with double-digit performances in each game last week. In addition to 28 points and 45.5 accuracy from the field last week, Cunningham grabbed five rebounds and had three assists against just one turnover in 50 total minutes on the court. Cunningham continues to rank second on the team in scoring this year, averaging 13.6 points per game.

STAVISH CONTRIBUTES ALL AROUND: Senior Vanessa Stavish scored a dozen points in the win over Saint Martin’s, then turned in seven rebounds and three assists against the Falcons. She also connected once from 3-point range last Saturday, moving her into sole possession of No. 10 in MSUB history with 126 in her four-year career. Stavish passed Kayla McPherson (2006-09), and Kalli (Stanhope) Allen (2008-12) is next on the list at 140.

HULL HITTING FROM ARC: Senior Brina Hull continued her strong start from long range this season, hitting both threes in the game against the Falcons. The Colstrip native ranks third in the conference at 51.9 percent, and is averaging a career-best 5.8 points per game this season.

EDWARDS MATCHES CAREER HIGH: Senior Taylor Edwards was a major factor in the Yellowjackets out-rebounding a team for just the second time this year, when she matched her career high with seven boards in the win over Seattle Pacific. Before that, she had four assists in the game against Saint Martin’s and didn’t commit a single turnover while playing 36 minutes in the Yellowjackets’ last two games.

FREE THROW FIENDS: The Yellowjackets enter this week No. 2 in the GNAC in free-throw percentage, at a lofty 77.3 percent on the season. Only Northwest Nazarene is higher at 79.9 percent, and eight of MSUB’s 10 players who have attempted a free throw this year are shooting 75.0 percent or better.

No. 14 University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves
Thursday, January 10, 2019 – 7 PM AKT – Anchorage, Alaska
2018-19 Record: 12-1, 4-1 GNAC
Head Coach: Ryan McCarthy, 7th season
2017-18 Record: 27-5, 18-2 GNAC (T-1st Place, GNAC Regular-Season Co-Champion, NCAA West Region Runner-Up)

After topping University of Alaska 81-70 on Tuesday, the No. 14 Seawolves have won five straight games entering Thursday’s affair with MSUB. The team’s only loss this year was on Dec. 1, in an 84-68 setback at then-No. 15 Northwest Nazarene.

GNAC Preseason Player of the Year Hannah Wandersee leads the Seawolves both in scoring (13.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg), and is 1 of 4 players to have started all 13 games for seventh-year head coach Ryan McCarthy. Also in double figures for UAA is Safiyyah Yasin, who is averaging 10.1 points in 20.2 minutes off the bench.

The experienced Seawolves’ other key starters include Tara Thompson, Kian McNair, and Sala Langi. Thompson is averaging 9.6 points while leading the team at 42.9 percent accuracy from 3-point range. McNair meanwhile averages 9.2 points and is tied for the team high with 49 assists, and Langi contributes 6.5 points and a team-second-best 4.5 rebounds per game.

UAA has been without reigning all-conference guard Yazmeen Goo, who averaged 13.0 points in her first three games of the year but hasn’t played since.

The Seawolves hold a dominant scoring margin of 73.2-58.2, combining the league’s best defense and second-most prolific offense for the top mark in that category. UAA also out-rebounds its opposition 35.8-31.7, while shooting 43.0 percent from the floor, 34.2 percent from long range, and 71.9 percent from the foul line.

The Series: MSUB is 27-35 all-time against UAA and is 11-19 in games played in Anchorage. UAA has won nine of the last 10, 11 of the last 13, and 21 of the last 24 dating back to the 2007-08 season when the ‘Jackets joined the GNAC.

Last Time Out: Despite UAA’s dominance in the last decade, MSUB claimed a signature 71-70 win the last time the teams met in the 2018 NCAA D2 West Region title game in Azusa, California. The ‘Jackets avenged a pair of regular-season losses to UAA in the 2017-18 regular season, and advanced to the Elite Eight for the second time in school history.

University of Alaska Nanooks
Saturday, January 12, 2019 – 2 PM AKT – Fairbanks, Alaska
2018-19 Record: 3-8, 0-5 GNAC
Head Coach: Kerri Nakamoto, 1st season
2017-18 Record: 4-22, 0-20 GNAC (11th place)

UAF’s losing streak reached eight with Tuesday’s loss at UAA, although the Nanooks kept it close against the Seawolves until the finish. The Nanooks’ last win was on Nov. 16 with a 65-61 triumph over Cal State Dominguez Hills. The team is in search of its first conference win since Feb. 18, 2017, as it has lost 26 straight GNAC affairs over the last two seasons.

Marian Wamsley is the team’s leading scorer with 13.5 points per game, and she is shooting 59.2 percent from the floor. She is also grabbing a team-best 6.1 rebounds per game, but the Nanooks are being out-rebounded 40.0-32.9 overall this season.

Kylie Wallace (11.5 ppg) and Sabrina Ungaro (11.2) are also double-figure scorers for UAF, and they join Wamsley and Angela Murnion in starting all 11 games of the season so far. Ungaro is the team’s top threat from 3-point range, as she is shooting 38.5 percent (20-for-52) from the arc. She is also the team’s leader with 43 assists, while Wallace is just behind Wamsley with 5.9 rebounds per game.

Overall UAF shoots 39.3 percent from the field, 31.8 percent from 3-point range, and 66.5 percent from the free-throw line. The Nanooks are being out-scored 69.9-60.9 this season.

The Series: MSUB holds a dominant 53-14 all-time record against UAF and is 25-9 in games played in Fairbanks. The ‘Jackets have won four of the last six and 20 of the last 23 games dating back to the 2003-04 season.

Last Time Out: MSUB won 86-57 at home on Jan. 4, 2018, and claimed a 74-59 win in Fairbanks on Feb. 3, 2018 to complete the season sweep a year ago.

Scott Breen

Scott Breen

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