March 9, 2006
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
DOUG PACEY, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Two months ago the Western Washington University's men's basketball team was unstoppable.
Ranked No. 2 in the nation and No. 1 in the West, the Vikings had plundered and pillaged opponents, winning 15 straight games. Western seemed to be well on its way to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship.
Then leading-scorer Ryan Diggs sprained his ankle. He sat out one game and the Vikings lost for the first time in 60 days. Even after the senior guard returned, though, Western still struggled, losing four of its final six contests.
No GNAC title.
No hosting the NCAA Division II West Regional.
In just three weeks, the Vikings have gone from the overwhelming region favorites to a possible first-round knockout.
"We didn't end the season on a good note," Diggs said, "but that's all over and all that matters right now is Humboldt in the first round."
Western (21-6), seeded No. 2 in the region, will face the seventh-seeded Lumberjacks at 2:30 p.m. on Friday in the opening round of the West Regional at Royal Brougham Pavilion on the campus of GNAC champion and the West's No. 1 seed Seattle Pacific University.
Humboldt (17-9) snapped the Vikings' 15-game winning streak, thumping Western 108-97 at Arcata, Calif. When the Lumberjacks made the trip to Bellingham, though, they employed a half-court offense and lost 61-48 in one of the lowest scoring games in the last decade at Carver Gym.
"We're going to be prepared for anything," Viking coach Brad Jackson said. "The slate's been wiped clean for everyone at this point. It's been proven in our conference that anyone can beat anyone and we have to be ready for anything."
The Lumberjacks are led by junior forward Kevin Johnson, a 6-foot-7 all-GNAC first-teamer who averaged 18.6 points per game and a conference-best 9.8 rebounds per game.
But it's guard Grayson Moyer who's burned the Vikings for 45 points in two games this season. The 6-foot-5 sophomore is averaging 14.0 ppg.
"It seems like when they play away from home they slow down their game," Diggs said of the Lumberjacks. "But slow or fast, we're going to be ready."
Western might be best off trying to make Brougham Pavilion feel like Carver Gym. The Vikings won all 14 of their home games this season, but were only 7-6 away from Carver.
Jackson credits part of that to what he calls a "tremendous home-court advantage" and pointed out that Western's last four road losses - part of the season-ending 2-4 stretch - were all close games.
"All of those losses were decided in the last minute or the last possession," he said. "Now, we look back at those games and see things we would liked to have done differently or better, but we were in all of those games.
"But now it's win or go home."