Clinching the last seed

Daniel Newman

It was a win that they needed, and it was a win that they got.

The remainder of the Falcons season was decided after their victory last Thursday, clinching the final playoff spot available in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC).

Haliee Bennett works her way towards the net to score for SPU against Simon Fraser on Saturday. Alison Meharg | The Falcon

The Seattle Pacific University women’s basketball team beat Montana State Billings 79-74 on Thursday, Jan. 31 to keep hold of a tie for fifth place in the GNAC with Western Washington University, and a playoff spot. Rebounding was a key part of the win for the Falcons, as they won the rebound battle 50-35. This was the first time they had done so since the game against Concordia University on Nov. 29, 2018.

“Rebounding is hard work, we preach the importance of it every day, but it is the physicality of boxing out we need to improve on,” said head coach Mike Simonson two weeks ago. “We have and will continue to emphasize this area of the game.”

It’s easier to grab rebounds when the other team misses the shots, and MSU Billings didn’t shoot very well in the first half, including only making two of the 16 shots they attempted from the 3-point line. The Falcons, meanwhile, did most of their scoring in the paint and from the free-throw line. A balanced scoring attack propelled the Falcons to a 12-point lead with four minutes left in the second quarter, but an 11-4 run by the Yellowjackets made the game 38-33 at halftime.

It was more of the same story in the second half. The Falcons would pull away for a while, but the Yellowjackets would always have an answer. The Falcons got to the free-throw line early and often in the third quarter, pushing them to a 50-38 lead. The Yellowjackets began to adopt the same strategy and pulled back within one at 54-53.
The teams went back and forth, and the Falcons looked to pull away again after back to back threes from guards Riley Evans and Jaylee Albert to push the lead to 69-61 with about five minutes left in the game. But the Yellowjackets made four of their next seven shots, pulling within one at 73-72 with two minutes to go.

It looked like the game would have an exciting finish, but the Yellowjackets missed their next five shots, and the Falcons hit their next six free throws to pull away one final time for the win.

Evans led the Falcons with 18 points, hitting all six of her free throws, and grabbed seven rebounds as well. Forward Cici West had both double-digit points and rebounds for the sixth time this season, with 14 and 12 respectively. Guard Hailee Bennett lead the team with five assists and Guard Kaprice Boston added 12 points off the bench.

“Kaprice has been coming back steadily from injury she suffered in early December. She is someone who can affect the game in a variety of ways defensively and offensively. Her ability to guard multiple positions really helped against Montana State Billings on Thursday. She is starting to play her best basketball yet,” Simonson said.

For the Yellowjackets, guard Hannah Collins scored 25 points, and forward Taylor Cunningham had 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Guard Jeanann Lumlin also scored a career-high 12 points.

The win was a good bounce back performance from a 91-70 loss to Saint Martin’s University on Tuesday. The Saints jumped out to a 38-21 lead midway through the second quarter and never looked back.

For the Saints, guard Makenna Schultz lead all scorers with 23 points and had five assists. Guard Claire Dingus was close behind with 19 points, and forward Bria Thames had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

For the Falcons, Evans lead the team with 18 points, West had nine points and eight rebounds and Albert had eight points and three assists.

Up next this week for the Falcons are the Central Washington Wildcats, the team in fourth place in the conference, and losers of three out of their last four games.

That matchup will take place on Thursday. After that, the Falcons will be matched up with Northwest Nazarene University on Saturday, who are tied for first place in the conference and ranked eighth in the nation.

“Both teams can really score well from the 3-point line and are extremely athletic. We will need to play solid defense and cannot allow open looks. On offense, we need to be extremely fundamental because their athleticism can cause problems,” Simonson said.