By Jana Obune
SEATTLE — Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Brougham Pavilion is 90 miles away from home, but Western played like they had home court advantage.
The first game of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships for women’s basketball was a battle of turnovers and fouls. The third-seeded Vikings advanced to the semifinal game after gaining an early lead and keeping it to seal a 69-54 win Thursday, March 5 against No. 6 the Montana State University Billings Yellowjackets.
During the regular season, the Vikings won both meetings against the Yellowjackets. Playing away from both team’s home bases did not change the Vikings’ winning streak as they closed the game with a 15-point win.
The Vikings ended the first quarter with an 8-0 run and held the Yellowjackets scoreless for close to six minutes entering the second quarter 17-12 with a five-point lead. Junior guard Gracie Castaneda led the team with 13 points of the bench, 4-of-4 from the free throw line, 4-of-4 from the field and 1-of-1 from three-point range. She also contributed two rebounds, two steals and an assist in her 23 minutes of play.
“It was a lot of fun and after halftime we knew like we needed to pick it up, our energy and our overall defense. I just did what I could to provide energy for the team and we work together super well,” Castaneda said.
First Team All-GNAC senior center Anna Schwecke had 11 points on the game, shooting 5-of-8 from the field and contributed three rebounds before fouling out with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
All-GNAC honorable mention junior guard Emma Duff registered her fifth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with three assists and a steal. She connected 4-of-9 from the field, scoring all 10 of her points during the first half. By the second half, the Yellowjackets held Duff and Schwecke to a total of two points.
“When we’re working together on defense against stops it makes it easy to score in transition. I think the key is just defensive effort,” Duff said about bringing that offensive and defensive effort to last night’s game.
Yellowjackets sophomore forward Taryn Shelley led Montana State with 21 points, 11 rebounds and a steal.
Shelley got off to a slower start in the first half of the game, only scoring two points in the beginning of the first quarter. By the second half she dropped 19 points and snagged five rebounds.
Even though both teams dealt with foul trouble throughout the game, Western came out on top and out-rebounded Montana State 39-28, with a 10-6 advantage in offensive rebounds.
The Vikings have won the last five meetings against the Yellowjackets with the all-time series standing at 27-16.
Western improved to 21-8 overall and will face Northwest Nazarene University Friday, March 6 with a 5:15 tip-off for a chance to reach the GNAC Championship finals.
The team is excited to get another shot against Northwest Nazarene during their semifinals after splitting their two regular season matchups. “We need to take care of the basketball against NNU [Northwest Nazarene] and we need to play great defense and so I think those two things in control [of] the boards will really help us tomorrow,” head coach Carmen Dolfo said.