March 6, 2014
LONGVIEW, Wash. -
By Rick McCorkle, Sports Reporter, Longview Daily News
Achieving basketball's triple-double takes a certain savvy, knowing when to shoot and when to pass to an open teammate.
Longview's Austin Bragg, a senior center at Western Washington, has that know-how. He proved it during a recent 99-76 victory over the Alaska Anchorage.
As for the triple-double --- he is only the second player in WWU history and the third in Great Northwest Athletic Conference lore to accomplish the feat.
"It was one of those games," Bragg said with a chuckle after a recent WWU practice. "The other team wanted to go help-side and double the post, so every time I kicked the ball out to someone they'd hit a shot. One of the guys hit a 30-foot 3-pointer."
Bragg's triple-double is one of 41 achieved at the NCAA and NAIA levels of men's basketball this season. The Mark Morris graduate, who had 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, played all 20 minutes in the opening half.
He said he had an inkling something special was happening.
"I knew I had five assists, and I knew the points and rebounds would come," he said. "I got two more assists in the first couple minutes of the second half. ... This is something I can look back on when I get older."
But the 6-foot-9 Bragg has been more than a one-hit wonder for the Vikings in his two seasons in Bellingham. He leads the team in scoring (17.5 points per game), rebounding (9.0), blocked shots (1.8) and shooting percentage (.602), and has been WWU's top scorer seven times and leading rebounder 17 times in 26 games.
Bragg is the top rebounder in the GNAC, and is ranked second in blocked shots, fourth in shooting percentage and fifth in scoring to earn all-GNAC first-team accolades.
"With the team we have and the spot I'm in, the ball comes to me a lot and the numbers reflect that," Bragg said. "It's not just a numbers game and we all work hard on defense. I've been lucky to have good coaches all of my life, and hard work and playing in great programs to put me in this spot."
Bragg played two seasons at Clark College in Vancouver, where he was a two-time NWAACC Western Division pick. He averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds as a sophomore to catch the attention of WWU coach Tony Dominguez.
"Austin is an incredible, tough kid who is gifted in a lot of ways and can do whatever it takes to win," he said. "He's very coachable and all I thought he'd be and more. He's lived up to all of my expectations and is one of the best bigs we've ever had. He's also one of my all-time favorite players."
Bragg averaged 9.1 points and 7.3 rebounds, and had a conference-high eight double-doubles, as a junior to earn GNAC honorable mention honors.
"They recruited me to replace an All-American, but I didn't feel any pressure coming in," he said. "I had a good idea going in as to what I wanted to do."
Bragg helped the Vikings to the NCAA Division II West Regional Championships before eventually falling to Drury in the Division II Final Four in 2013. This season, he notched a conference-best 11 double-doubles, and led the GNAC with a dozen games of 10 rebounds or more. He was also ranked fourth with two 30-point games, and fifth with nine 20-point contests. For his WWU career, Bragg has amassed 19 double-doubles in 60 games.
"I thought Austin would be a double-double type of player despite getting double- and triple-teamed every night," Dominguez said. "He can score in a lot of ways on the perimeter and inside, and he's a very good passer, shot blocker and defender."
The Vikings face the winner of the Alaska Fairbanks-Montana State Billings contest in tonight's GNAC Tournament semifinals at Saint Martin's in Lacey. WWU needs a victory, coupled with a win in Saturday's championship game to return to the Division II West Regionals.
"I'd say we're just as talented as last year's team," Bragg said. "We seem to be coming together as of late, and we're working hard and having fun."
A marketing and economics major, Bragg has flirted with the idea of playing professional basketball after graduation.
"It would be ideal to play overseas," he said. "Find a job, play basketball and have fun, that would be a nice dream job. It would also be really cool to play in the NBA, but I'm focusing on getting my degree so I have a backup plan."
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