Senior guard Taylor Stafford dropped 32 points and senior forward Jeffrey Parker added 21, helping the No. 24 Western men’s basketball team upend the University of Alaska Anchorage 91-84.
The Vikings claimed sole possession of first place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference after the battle between the two first-place teams on Saturday, Jan. 7.
“It’s exciting,” Western men’s basketball coach Tony Dominguez said. “It’s a momentum-swinger. Winning this game gives us momentum, rather than going the other way.”
The Vikings were sparked by a red-hot first half from long range, hitting 7 of 13 shots from beyond the arc at a 53.8 percent clip. This includes 4-for-5 from Stafford and 3-for-4 from Parker.
“We definitely brought a lot of energy,” Parker said. “We were very confident going into this one, to just show the GNAC how great our potential is.”
Despite being a close match for much of the game. The Vikings seemed in control throughout the night, never feeling threatened until the final three minutes.
Excellent perimeter defense by the Vikings helped stave off the feisty Seawolves, who took their only lead of the night just before the half.
“They kept the game a little bit tight,” Parker said. “We just stayed together and composed. I’m really proud of my teammates for that.”
Alaska’s lead was quickly squashed as junior guard Blake Fernandez connected on two free throws to regain their advantage going into the break.
The only areas the Vikings seemed to struggle with was defending the paint and giving up second-chance opportunities.
The Vikings allowed 18 points in the paint, some uncontested, along with 12 points off offensive rebounds.
Nonetheless, the Vikings’ consistency proved to be the winner as Western answered every comeback attempt the Seawolves threw at them.
Western took a 12-point lead, their largest of the night, after two free throws by sophomore guard Trey Dreschel, giving the Vikings an 80-68 lead with 3:27 left to play.
But the Seawolves wouldn’t go away, with junior guard Augustus Simmers scoring 8-straight points to cut the lead to four with 1:35 left.
With 36 seconds left and the Vikings holding an 82-77 lead, Stafford elevated and drained a contested 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving Western an 8-point lead and all they would need to secure the victory.
“We were very confident going into this one, to just show the GNAC how great our potential is.”
“I’ve been in that kind of situation before,” Stafford said. “It felt very good because there’s kind of a rivalry between us.”
After dropping three of their last five games, the win gives Western a league-leading 5-1 record in the GNAC and brings their overall record to 11-3.
“It means a lot because we’ve been through so much,” Stafford said. “We’ve been so down these past couple weeks. This is what we needed to get us back on that win streak we had in the beginning when we were 8-0. I’m just thankful right now.”
Dominguez praised the energy and perseverance of his team, and the continuity they displayed throughout the night.
“They’re trusting in the process and they’re living in the moment,” Dominguez said. “That’s what I love to watch, because it’s fun to watch people play with passion.”
The Vikings had three players in double-digit scoring. Redshirt freshman Daulton Hommes contributed 17. Stafford and Hommes tied for a team-high of five rebounds.
Western’s next game is against Concordia University at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 12, in Portland, Oregon.