Playoff push begins for MSU Billings women, men

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – Although only eight games remain on the 2018-19 regular-season schedule for the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team, six of them are at home including a pair this weekend at Alterowitz Gym.

The Yellowjackets (9-9, 5-7 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) will look to build on their strong mark of 5-1 in home games this season, as they battle to claim a top-six spot in the conference standings and earn a berth into the GNAC Championships.

Entering the week, MSUB is tied with Concordia University for seventh place in the standings. The ‘Jackets however are just one game behind sixth-place Western Washington University (11-9, 6-6) and Seattle Pacific University (7-12, 6-6), and only two games behind fourth-place Central Washington University (12-7, 7-5).

This week, the Yellowjackets entertain the University of Alaska (3-16, 0-13) on Thursday and conference co-leader No. 10 University of Alaska Anchorage (20-1, 12-1) on Saturday. Both games will tip off at 7 p.m., and live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal here.

MSUB will remain at home next week against No. 7 Northwest Nazarene University and Central Washington, and closes the regular season with home games against Western Washington (Feb. 28), and Simon Fraser University (March 2). Between those two series is the final road trip of the year, at Western Oregon University (Feb. 21), and Concordia University (Feb. 23).

“It is nice to be at home for the next two weeks,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “It is the first time all year we will be able to play home games back-to-back weeks, so hopefully we can get some momentum going. We almost won both games on the road last week. I liked the way we executed down the stretch against Saint Martin’s last Saturday, and it was a much-needed victory for our team.”

MSUB is coming off a split on the road last week, as it fell 79-74 at Seattle Pacific last Thursday before topping Saint Martin’s University 76-69 last Saturday.

ELITE GUESTS SATURDAY: The 2018-19 campaign marks the 20th anniversary of MSUB’s 1999 NCAA D2 Elite Eight women’s basketball team, and members from the squad will be recognized during a ceremony at halftime of Saturday’s game against UAA. The 1998-99 team, which featured current Yellowjacket athletic director Krista Montague, set a standard for excellence by going 25-6 and claiming the first NCAA D2 west region title in program history. MSUB went 12-2 in the PacWest Conference to claim the regular-season title, before knocking off Western Washington 70-48 and UC Davis 70-62 in the west regional in California.

University of Alaska Nanooks
Thursday, February 7 – 7 PM – Alterowitz Gym
2018-19 Record: 3-16, 0-13 GNAC
Head Coach: Kerri Nakamoto, 1st season
2017-18 GNAC Finish: 4-22, 0-20 GNAC (11th place)
First Meeting: MSUB 80, UAF 72 (Jan. 12, 2019 at Fairbanks, AK)

The GNAC losing streak for Alaska has reached 35 games, as the Nanooks haven’t won a conference game since the 2016-17 campaign. After starting the 2018-19 season 3-0, the Nanooks have lost 16 in-a-row and are 0-13 in league play after Tuesday’s 88-43 loss to Alaska Anchorage.

Marian Wamsley is the top scoring threat for Alaska, with 12.5 points per game and a team-best 6.0 rebounds. The strong post player will look to get the ball under the basket, where she is shooting 50.8 percent on the year to rank No. 9 in the conference.

Kylie Wallace is the Nanooks’ other double-figure scorer, with 10.9 points per game. Wallace is shooting 42.1 percent from the field, and is third on the team with 5.2 rebounds per game. Emily Evans is Alaska’s top shooter from the perimeter, where she is hitting at a clip of 37.4 percent which leads to 9.1 points per game. Sabrina Ungaro joins Wamsley and Wallace as the other player to have started all 19 games this season, and runs the point for the team with 68 assists on the year.

The Nanooks shoot 37.6 percent overall, 27.5 percent from 3-point territory, and 67.1 percent from the free-throw line. Alaska is being out-scored 73.1-57.8 and out-rebounded 39.9-33.1 this season.

“Fairbanks was able to get the ball inside on us too easily last game,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We shot it well from the 3-point line so we were able to come out on top, but every game is different. We need to play better post defense and I would like us to execute better with our transition offense. Wamsley and Wallace are solid post players, and their team played very scrappy against us last time.”

The Series: MSUB is 54-14 all-time against Alaska and is 27-3 in home games against the Nanooks. MSUB has won three in-a-row, and has lost to Alaska at home just one time since 1992 with a 71-53 setback on December 29, 2016.

Last Time Out: Collins matched her career high with 29 points and Stavish logged a double-double to help the ‘Jackets claim the road victory in Fairbanks a month ago.

No. 10 University of Alaska Anchorage
Saturday, February 9 – 7 PM – Alterowitz Gym
2018-19 Record: 20-1, 12-1 GNAC
Head Coach: Ryan McCarthy, 6th season
2017-18 GNAC Finish: 27-5, 18-2 GNAC (T1st Place, NCAA D2 West Region Runner-Up)
First Meeting: #14 UAA 87, MSUB 42 (Jan. 10, 2019 at Anchorage, AK)

The Seawolves dispatched the Nanooks comfortably on Tuesday night, keeping pace with Northwest Nazarene in the No. 1 spot in the conference standings. UAA is two wins away from clinching a spot in the conference tournament, and has ascended into the top-10 in the country by virtue of a 13-game winning streak.

Preseason GNAC Player of the Year Hannah Wandersee leads her team and ranks fifth in the conference with 14.9 points per game, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field. Wandersee also leads her team with 5.4 rebounds and 22 total blocked shots, while starting all 21 games for the Seawolves. Yazmeen Goo, and honorable mention all-league guard a season ago, has been limited to just 11 games but is second on the team with 9.5 points scored. Tara Thompson is one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference at 39.0 percent, and is chipping in 8.8 points while joining Wandersee as the only other player to have started every game of the season.

Safiyyah Yasin has been one of the Seawolves’ key bench players, as she ranks third on the team with a scoring average of 9.2 points per game. Sala Langi joins MSUB’s Cunningham as another of the four players in the conference to have at least one point, rebound, and assist in every game she has played this year, and she has started 20 of 21 games while averaging 7.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and has 59 assists.

UAA’s scoring margin of plus-19.3 is second best in the conference, as the Seawolves average 75.4 points per game while giving up a GNAC-low 56.1. The Seawolves also hold the upper hand in rebounding at 35.3-31.9. As a team they shoot 44.3 percent overall, 34.2 percent from the arc, and 71.0 percent from the foul line.

“We didn’t shoot well in Anchorage, and will need to handle their pressure much better than last time we played them,” said Woodin. “It is important to protect the ball on offense, and we will need to have offensive balance against them both in types of shots and types of scores. Wandersee is again one of the premier players in the league and they have so many weapons on the perimeter. We must identify where Thompson is as well, as she is lethal from the 3-point line.”

The Series: MSUB is 27-36 all-time against UAA and clings to a 15-14 advantage in home games. The Seawolves have won 10 of the last 11 games in the series, and have been ranked in the top-20 in the country in each of those meetings. MSUB’s last home win against UAA was on March 1, 2014, with a 75-72 triumph.

Last Time Out: UAA blasted the ‘Jackets in Anchorage, leading 43-18 by halftime in a one-sided game. MSUB was held to a season-low 42 points in the defeat, while shooting just 23.9 percent from the field (11-for-46).

As for MSUB’s men, playing in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference can make it difficult for any team to win the elusive two-game weekend. The Yellowjacket men are no exception. The Yellowjackets (11-9, 6-6 GNAC) have gone 1-1 in each of the last three weeks as they enter the stretch run precariously positioned in the sixth spot in the standings, which would qualify them for the conference tournament, but just barely.

This week they will try again for a sweep but will have to do it on the road. Thursday at 7:30 p.m. local time, the ‘Jackets play at Concordia University on Cavalier Court. On Saturday, the team takes on defending GNAC champion Western Oregon at New PE Building at 5:15 p.m. local time. Both games will be available to stream with live statistics. Links can be found on the men’s basketball schedule page of msubsports.com.

As every team knows, you have to be able to win at least a small number of road games to call the season a success. MSUB now has a chance to prove it with six of eight games away from Billings to end the regular season.

“Being at home for the last two and a half weeks has been good for us to get into a routine between basketball games and school,” said MSUB head coach Mick Durham. “We’ve competed very well away from Billings all year and this time of year it shouldn’t really matter where you play. It’s going to be difficult either way. Concordia has a bunch of gritty competitors and a lot of seniors with experience and Western Oregon has probable been the most consistent team at home and has made Monmouth a very tough place to play. We know we have to play well to win this week.”

The Yellowjackets have a talented young squad in 2018-19 that has at times showed they are capable of winning by wide margins against their GNAC counterparts. The team appeared to be playing close to their best in a 92-63 win over Seattle Pacific on January 26. Then they followed with a 40-point rout of Central Washington 87-47 on January 31 after CWU had beaten MSUB in overtime earlier in the season.

Saturday, the Yellowjackets suffered a 92-89 overtime loss to Northwest Nazarene, despite leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. A combination of turnovers and NNU shot making led to MSUB’s eventual demise in the extra session. The ‘Jackets are 1-3 in overtime games this season. Perhaps the most exciting game of the year came on January 19 when MSUB fell to Simon Fraser 112-107 at the conclusion of triple overtime.

Junior guard Tyler Green has 111 made field goals and ranks fifth in the conference with 17.1 points per game. Senior guard/forward Zack Rollins is also in the top-10 with 15.0 points per game (seventh). Brendan Howard continues to impress and will likely garner newcomer of the year consideration at 14.3 points per game (10th GNAC) for the Yellowjackets.

As a team, MSU Billings ranks fourth in the GNAC in scoring at 81.8 points per game and eighth in defense as they allow 77.4 points per game to opponents. MSUB holds a .713 free throw percentage (ninth), .374 three-point percentage (fourth), .735 defensive rebounding percentage (second), and .284 offensive rebound percentage (seventh).

Melvin Newbern Jr. leads the GNAC in rebounding with 8.8 rebounds per game and a total of 175 in 20 starts. Newbern Jr. ranks No. 45 in NCAA Division II in rebounds per game and is one rebound shy of the top 50 players for total rebounds.

MSUB shoots the fourth most 3-pointers in the GNAC. Tyler Green ranks No. 1 in 3-pointers made per game at 3.8. Green is also seventh in 3-point field goal percentage with a percentage of .449. Zharon Richmond has 20 blocked shots ranking third.

Scouting Concordia University
Game Day: Thursday, February 7 – 7:30 p.m. LT
2018-19 Record: 8-13, 3-10 GNAC, 3-8 home, 3-5 away, 2-0 neutral
Form: W , L , L , W , L
Head Coach: Brad Barbarick (25th season)
2017-18 Record: 5-23, 1-19 GNAC, 3-11 home, 0-12 away

The Concordia Cavaliers outscored Western Oregon 9-2 in the final two minutes of Tuesday night’s game to upset the Wolves 77-72. Jarrett Gray scored 23 points and Hunter Sweet chipped in 18 points for the Cavs. Both Gray and Sweet had key three-point field goals in the final 77 seconds of the game.

Gray leads Concordia with 15.7 points per game and 4.5 rebounds per game. Sweet is second with 11.3 points per game and 3.7 rebounds per game. Other starters include Cody Starr (9.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg), Dom Bradley (8.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg), and Jace Cates (6.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg).

The Cavaliers score 75.2 points per game (ninth) and allow 77.0 points per game to opponents (seventh). CU is also third in free throw percentage (.737), eighth in 3-point percentage (.362), and eighth in rebounding.

The Yellowjackets defeated the Cavaliers 80-69 on January 12 in Billings. Tyler Green had 23 points with four 3-pointers and 7 of 9 free throws. The ‘Jackets outshot Concordia 45-percent to 42-percent from the floor. MSUB won the game despite committing 17 turnovers and having the ball stolen 10 times.

MSU Billings is 6-2 all-time against Concordia University in games dating back to 1998. Last season MSUB won both games of the season series, including a one point, 80-79 win at Alterowitz Gymnasium on February 3, 2018.

Scouting Western Oregon University
Game Day: Saturday, February 9 – 5:15 p.m. LT
2018-19 Record: 16-6, 9-4 GNAC, 10-1 home, 4-4 away, 2-1 neutral
Form: L , W , W , L , W
Head Coach: Jim Shaw (4th season)
2017-18 Record: 31-2, 19-1 GNAC, 16-1 home, 11-1 away, 4-0 neutral

Despite the road loss to Concordia Tuesday night, the Wolves held on to their third place spot in the GNAC standings. WOU is 1.5 games behind Northwest Nazarene (10-2) and Saint Martin’s (10-2) for first place and one game ahead of Seattle Pacific (8-4) for fourth. Western Oregon has proven extremely difficult to beat at home this season. Their only home loss came on January 17 against nationally ranked Saint Martin’s. Last season, the Wolves fell in the NCAA Division II west region final to No. 3 Cal Baptist 80-76. WOU lost just once in Monmouth all year.

Similar to MSUB Billings, Western Oregon scores by committee with four players averaging over 10 points per game. Riley Hawken leads the offense with 13.0 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game. Darius Lubom averages 11.0 points and 3.0 rebounds and Dalven Brushier scores 11.3 points per game and grabs 3.1 rebounds for the Wolves.

As a team, Western Oregon ranks seventh in scoring (79.5 ppg), first in defense (65.8 points allowed), fifth in free throw percentage (.726), 10th in 3-pt percentage (.349), and fifth in rebounding. The Wolves also have a knack for causing turnovers and they rank tied for first in steals per game at 8.3.

The Yellowjackets lost to Western Oregon 81-65 at home on January 10. WOU made eight second half 3-pointers to pull away from MSUB, which shot just 5-for-19 from beyond the arc. Melvin Newbern Jr. led the ‘Jackets with 21 points (9-for-13). Rollins (14 points), Green (12 points), and Howard (12 points) also reached double figures. The Yellowjackets have been held to 65 points or less just three times this season.

MSUB is 11-17 all-time against WOU and 1-9 over the last ten matchups. The last time the Yellowjackets defeated the Wolves was December 5, 2016 at home.

CONFERENCE OVERVIEW: Saint Martin’s (17-3, 10-2) lost to Simon Fraser 61-59 Saturday night and fell into a first place tie with the Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks (15-3, 10-2), who have won four straight games. Western Oregon (16-6, 9-4) remained alone in third place, followed by Seattle Pacific (11-6, 8-4), Alaska Anchorage (.12-8, 7-5), and Montana State Billings (11-9, 6-6).

Adonis Arms (NNU) leads the conference with 21.1 points per game. Trevor Jasinsky (19.3) is second (19.3 ppg) and Obi Megwa (NNU) is third (18.2 ppg). Lubom (WOU) was selected as the Men’s Basketball Player of the Week after he scored 46 points and shot 64.2 percent from the field in a sweep of the Alaska schools. He scored 16 points on 7 of 11 shooting with eight assists in Thursday’s 94-78 win over Alaska and then led all scorers with 30 points on 11 of 17 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free throw line in Saturday’s 81-61 win over Alaska Anchorage.

Scott Breen

Scott Breen

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