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By Connor J. Benintendi

Western junior Gracie Casteneda (22) dribbles around an opponent during their winning game against Western Oregon University on Saturday, Feb. 1. // Photo by Ella Banken

The Western women’s basketball team moved to 9-0 at home following a 61-57 down to the wire contest against the Western Oregon University Wolves on Saturday, Feb. 1 at Sam Carver Gymnasium.

Western extended their winning streak to five games following the victory and remained tied at third place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 9-3 conference record and 15-5 overall.

“That was not pretty,” Western head coach Carmen Dolfo said in a postgame interview. “Western Oregon did a great job; they seem to have our number. They were down and kept fighting, I was really impressed with them.”

Western Oregon defeated the Vikings on Jan. 2 at their home court, in a double overtime game that saw Western fall 73-70. The Wolves entered the Feb. 1 match-up with a record of 5-13.

Despite leading by as much as 17 in the first quarter on Saturday — and taking a 10-point lead into the second half — Western saw their lead slowly diminish, being outscored 35-29 in the second half.

“It felt like we came out and played really well and then we started to play not to lose instead of playing to win,” Dolfo said. “I felt like we played tight and we didn’t play confident. We haven’t done that in a while so we’re going to have to work that out.”

Western held on to win thanks to a shot clock-beating layup from junior guard Gracie Castaneda that put the Vikings up four points with 10 seconds left.

“I was just trying to get to the basket because the clock was running down,” Castaneda said. “I just shot it and it went in.”

Castaneda had four points and four rebounds on the night, but showed up big when it mattered most.

A gritty defensive performance by each team saw both shoot below 40% as a result. The Vikings’ five-point advantage in the free throw category proved to be the difference.

The Vikings haven’t trailed their opponents in each of their last four games, but Western had trouble getting shots to fall. Just two players scored in double digits, as they fell well short of their team 75-point per-game average on the season.

Senior center Anna Schwecke totaled 11 points and junior guard Emma Duff had 12. Duff also tied her career-high of five steals and paced the team in minutes with 33.

“We’re always so confident that our defense is going to get us back in a game and get us through a game,” Duff said. “Just knowing that even if shots aren’t falling, the defensive end is where we excel.”

Duff added six rebounds and an assist and said despite claiming the victory, the game was an eye-opener that any team can give them a tough fight.

“I think we have to keep working on the things that we struggle with and hopefully keep this run going,” Duff said.

Senior guard Lexie Bland had four first quarter points but finished with just six, as her eight-game stretch of double-digit scoring was snapped. Bland fouled out late in the fourth quarter when she was needed most, but still totaled three assists and three steals.

Dolfo said she kept faith in her star guard following the game, despite a down performance from the senior and said they have to get it done with or without Bland.

“She’s our glue,” Dolfo said. “She does so many things for us and it hurt having her out. But I thought [sophomore guard] Mollie [Olson] handled it well and I think Gracie [Castaneda] stepped up and did a great job.”

Clocking five minutes above her 22-minute average on the season, sophomore guard Mollie Olson filled the stat sheet totaling seven points, four rebounds, four assists, a steal and two blocks. Olson came into the game second in the GNAC averaging 4.7 assists per game.

Western begins a two-game road trip on Thursday, Feb. 6, beginning against the 7-13 Seattle Pacific University Falcons.

They then head to Lacey to take on Saint Martin’s University, who have lost three-straight games, on Saturday, Feb. 8.

Dolfo said that despite beating both teams at home earlier this season, “when you’re on the road, it’s a whole different story.”


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