Western home to NCAA II regional, play begins Friday
Western Washington University junior guard John Allen drives for a layup against in-state rival Central Washington University on Jan. 18, 2012. Allen and the Vikings take on Grand Canyon University at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the NCAA II West Regional. Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics
Playing host to the NCAA Division II West Regional for the third time in four seasons, the Western Washington University men's basketball team faces No.8 seed Grand Canyon University in an opening-round game at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 9, at Sam Carver Gymnasium.
That contest can be heard live on KBAI Radio (930 AM - www.930kbai.com) with Doug Lange handling play-by-play and Mark Scholten providing color commentary. It also can be viewed on the internet at http://wwu.nmtvsports.com and live stats are available at http://www.gnacsports.com/livestats.htm. Broadcasts of the games Saturday and Monday will be on KPUG Radio (1170 AM - www.kpug1170.com).
The Vikings, ranked No.12 in this week's National Association of Basketball Coaches/NCAA II Top 25 Poll, earned the No.1 seed and the right to host the regional by posting a 25-5 record. They held onto the top spot in the West despite falling to Montana State Billings, 82-78, on Friday in the semifinals of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament at Lacey. WWU won the GNAC regular-season title with a 16-2 record.
"We're very pleased and excited," said WWU coach Brad Jackson (27th year), whose Vikings are 14-1 at home this season. "First of all, to be in the tournament is a great accomplishment, but also to be playing at home. We look forward to having our crowd be a big part of the tournament."
The winner of Friday's game will face either No.4 seed Humboldt State or No. 5 seed Chico State in a semifinal contest Saturday (7 p.m.). The Lumberjacks and Wildcats meet Friday at 5:30 p.m.
On the other side of the bracket Friday, No.2 seed Alaska Anchorage faces No.7 seed Montana State Billings at 2:30 p.m. in a rematch of the GNAC championship game won by MSUB, 74-70; and No.3 seed Seattle Pacific faces No.6 seed Dixie State at 12:30 p.m.
Saturday's semifinal winners play in Monday's title game (7 p.m.), with the champion advancing to the NCAA II Elite Eight at Highland Heights, Ky.
"I'm proud of our team," said Jackson. "We thought toward the end of the season that we had an opportunity to host the regional, and we're looking forward to working hard this week and being ready to go."
This is WWU's sixth regional appearance. Remarkably, the Vikings are hosting for the fifth time. They hosted a six-team regional in 2001, and, after the expansion of the NCAA II tournament, hosted eight-team regionals in 2005 and 2009. They also hosted a sub-regional as the No.2 seed in the West in 2010, playing on the road only in 2006.
WWU won the West Region in 2001 and advanced to the national semifinals. The Vikings also reached the regional final in 2006.
Grand Canyon is 19-7 and riding a nine-game winning streak. Guard Kyle Speed averages 13.6 points and 3.3 assists for the Antelopes. Also scoring in double figures are center Braylon Pickrel (10.3 points, 6.7 rebounds) and guard Jerome Garrison (10.2 points).
"We've played them in the past," said Jackson. "They're a well-coached team with a very aggressive style and a lot of enthusiasm."
The schools last met in the 2009-10 season, when they played three times, the Vikings winning all three matchups.
Tickets for the regional tournament go on sale Tuesday at 11 a.m. and can be purchased by calling 360-650-2583. Reserved tickets are $12, general admission $8, and students, youth and seniors with ID are $5, with tickets good all day for multiple-game dates.
WWU, which was No.1 in the West Region in all three ratings prior to Sunday's selection show, has had winning streaks of nine and 10 games this season. The Vikings have won five of six games against top 25-rated NCAA II teams, two each over Alaska Anchorage and Seattle Pacific. They are 7-2 in games decided by five or less points.
WWU won its first eight GNAC road games, a league record, finishing 8-1 in a bid to become the first team in the league's 11-year history to go unbeaten on the road during the regular season.
The Vikings are ranked 13th nationally among NCAA II schools in scoring offense (82.0 avg.), 18th in three-point percentage (39.3 220-of-560), and 21st in field-goal percentage (48.8, 887-of-1816). They lead the GNAC in steals (8.9), and are second in scoring offense, field-goal shooting, three-point percentage and blocked shots (4.1).
WWU's 20-win season is its third in the last four years and the 12th for the Vikings in Brad Jackson's 27 seasons as head coach. With 512 victories, Jackson ranks third among the winningest collegiate coaches in the state of Washington.
Jackson was named GNAC Coach of the Year for the third time.