Men advance to Elite Eight with 56-50 win over SPU
Western Washington University players pose with their trophy after defeating Seattle Pacific University, 56-50, in the West Regional championship game of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball National Tournament at Sam Carver Gymnasium on the WWU campus Monday, March 12. The top-seeded Vikings improved to 28-5 and advance to the NCAA II Elite Eight for the first time since 2001. Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics
Members of the WWU men's basketball team hold their NCAA Div. II regional trophy aloft during an on-court celebration after their 56-50 win over Seattle Pacific University on Monday, March 12, in Carver Gymnasium. Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics
Team Captain Rory Blanche hugs coach Brad Jackson after the victory. Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics
Guard John Allen scored a game-high 16 points and was named regional tournament MVP as Western Washington University defeated Seattle Pacific University, 56-50, in the West Regional championship game of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball National Tournament at Sam Carver Gymnasium on the WWU campus.
The top-seeded Vikings improved to 28-5 and advance to the NCAA II Elite Eight for the first time since 2001.
Seattle Pacific, the No.3 seed in the regional, completed its season 23-8. Center Andy Poling had 15 points for the Falcons, and forward Jobi Wall added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
WWU held a 30-23 lead at halftime, but SPU opened the second half with a 9-2 run to tie the game at 32-32 just 2:07 into the period. However, fastbreak layins by Blanche and Allen triggered a 14-4 run, and the Vikings opened up a 46-36 lead with 10:23 left, the biggest margin of the game.
The Falcons rallied again with seven straight points, pulling to within three, 46-43, with 7:23 left, but never got that close again.
"To have this kind of accomplishment is a feather in our players' caps," said WWU coach Brad Jackson. "I'm real proud of their effort and their fight, I thought we really came together down the stretch."
Forward Zach Henifin had 11 points and forward Rory Blanche added 10 for the Vikings, who reached the regional final by defeating No.8 seed Grand Canyon, 79-73, in first round, and No. 5 seed Chico State, 74-65, in semifinals.
SPU reached the final by edging No.6 seed Dixie State, 70-68, in the first round, and No.2 seed Alaska Anchorage, 80-67, in the semifinals.
The Falcons shot a season-low 28.1 percent (16-of-57) from the field, but stayed close by having a 45-32 advantage in rebounds and making 14-of-20 free throws (70.0 percent).
Allen was joined on the all-tournament team by Blanche, Henifin, Poling and SPU'S Jake Anderson, who had eight points and nine rebounds.
The NCAA II Elite Eight is March 21, 22 and 24 at Highland Heights, Kentucky. The Vikings will face the South Central Region champion - Midwestern State or Arkansas Tech - in the national quarterfinals.
The regional final was the third for the Vikings since becoming a NCAA II member in 1998. They defeated Cal State San Bernardino, 58-55, in 2001, when they eventually reached the national semifinals, and they lost 81-77 to Seattle Pacific in 2006 at Seattle.
Monday's triumph pushed the Vikings to 17-1 at home, setting a new WWU standard for home victories in a season. It was also their third victory of the season over SPU, having claimed a 79-71 triumph at Seattle on Dec. 3, and 72-70 win at Bellingham on Feb. 23.