LACEY, Wash. – Guards Katie Colard (Jr., McCleary/Elma) and Jenni White (Jr., Spokane/East Valley) combined for 38 points, lifting Western Washington University to a 78-74 victory over Simon Fraser University in the championship game of the fourth annual Great Northwest Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday at Marcus Pavilion on the campus of host Saint Martin’s University.
It was the second straight GNAC tourney title for the Vikings, who improved to 19-9 despite trailing throughout the first 33 minutes. They earn an automatic berth at the NCAA Division II West Regional on March 14-15 and 17.
Colard had 21 points and White, the tournament MVP, added 17 points, four assists and five steals as the Vikings won for the 16th time in the last 20 games.
Simon Fraser fell to 19-9 despite a game-high 28 points from forward Erin Chambers. The Clan jumped to a 10-0 lead and never trailed in an opening half where they shot 59.3 percent (16-of-27) from the field. SFU led by as much as 16 in the period and held a 42-32 lead at halftime.
“We talked at half that we were fine, we were only 10 down,” said WWU coach Carmen Dolfo. ” We needed to come out and play hard, play with heart, and not worry about a win or a loss. ”
Trailing 51-41 with 14 minutes left, the Vikings used an 8-1 run to pull within three, 52-49, with 10:27 left. They eventually took their first lead of the contest, 61-60, on two Tia Briggs (Fr., Tacoma/Wilson) free throws with 5:54 to play.
The teams then exchanged one-point leads until White put WWU up by three, 71-68, on a driving layin with 2:29 left. Taylor Peacocke (R-Fr., Kenmoor/Inglemoor), who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, then extended the gap to five on a spinning 7-foot bank shot. Those baskets were part of a 9-0 run that gave the Vikings a 76-68 lead with 1:09 remaining.
“I felt like Jenny started it even late in the first half,” Dolfo said. “She had two early fouls, and came back in and sparked us. She got the tempo going and played with a lot of heart. We made some key baskets at key times, and our guards – Katie, Jenni and Taylor – were great.”
SFU pulled within three, 75-72, on a Chambers trey with 48 seconds left, and had a chance to tie after a turnover with 20 seconds remaining, but another turnover ended their possession, and Colard hit one of two free throws with seven seconds left to effectively seal the victory.
WWU has played in every GNAC tourney final since the event began in 2011. The Vikings lost to Alaska Anchorage the first two years before defeating Simon Fraser, 60-40, in 2013.
The full NCAA Division II National Tournament field will be announced at 7 p.m. PDT on www.ncaa.com.
WWU, the No.2 seed, reached the final with an 81-71 win over Saint Martin’s in a semifinal Friday after receiving a first-round bye. SFU, the No.4 seed, upset No.1 Montana State Billings, 85-74, in a semifinal after defeating No.5 Seattle Pacific, 87-79, in opening-round action Wednesday.
WWU has now won 10 of 12 meetings with SFU since the Clan became the first Canadian university to join NCAA II.
This was the third meeting between WWU and SFU this season. They split the first two, SFU prevailing 62-58 at Burnaby, B.C., on Dec. 7 and the Vikings winning, 72-63, at Bellingham on March 1.