Blanche's big second half spurs on Vikings

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Rory Blanche
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Rory Blanche
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

March 11, 2012

BELLINGHAM, Wash, -

ANDREW LANG / THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Western Washington University's Rory Blanche said coach Brad Jackson always tells him he plays better when he's angry, and after scoring just two points in the first half, Blanche came out with something to prove in second half of Western's NCAA Division II West Regional Saturday night against Chico State.

"Well, my main thing was to stay strong," Blanche said. "I needed to get into the right mindset, and coach always says I play better when I'm mad."

Blanche scored 11 straight points in the second half and finished with 15 of his 17 in the last 20 minutes, as the Vikings beat Chico State 74-65 on Saturday, March 10, at Carver Gym to advance to the NCAA Division II West Regional finals.

"It was tough playing our second game in two days, but we did a good job of keeping our legs fresh, and we made plays down the stretch," Blanche said.

Western got its offense going early just as the Vikings did Friday night against Grand Canyon. But unlike Friday, WWU wasn't able to extend its lead. Four points from John Allen helped Western grab a 10-4 advantage three minutes into the game, but Chico State quickly recovered.

The Wildcats ventured on a 9-0 run to take a 13-10 lead, as the Vikings didn't score a point from the 16 minute, 55 second mark to the 9:44 mark in the first half when Richard Woodworth finally broke through for the Vikings with a mid-range jumper to cut the Chico State lead to 13-12.

Both teams traded buckets the rest of the half, as Zach Henifin, who scored just three points in Western's first round contest, scored two key baskets in the final 7 minutes of the first half to keep the Vikings from falling into a bit of a hole.

WWU got a nice lift off its bench from Dane Thorpe and Cameron Severson in the final four minutes of the half. Severson made several hustle plays, and Thorpe hauled in a key offensive board and scored on the put back to give Western a 28-26 lead with 30 seconds until halftime. But Chico State's Jay Flores hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half to give the Wildcats a 29-28 edge at the break.

Blanche single handedly made sure the Vikings kept pace with Chico State in the early part of the second half. The Western senior scored 11 straight points from the 18:35 mark to 13:12.

Western then grabbed a 43-42 lead after Zach Henifin tipped in a missed Blanche free throw.

Western followed the Henifin tip with a key 18-9 run highlighted by buckets from Rico Wilkins, Blanche and Henifin to take a 61-51 lead with 6:31 to go.

Chico State's Damario Sims hit a 3 to cut Western's lead to 63-58 with 3:40 left, but Allen answered back with a triple to extend the Vikings' lead to 66-58 with 1:50 to go, and Henifin made an extremely athletic play to tip in a missed Woodworth free throw to give WWU a 70-60 lead, which basically sealed the game.

Henifin matched Blanche with a team-high 17 points and Allen chipped in 13 points. Woodworth also reached double digits, scoring 11 points. The Vikings shot 50 percent from the field and forced 15 turnovers while turning the ball over just eight times themselves.

The Vikings now face Seattle Pacific in the NCAA Division II West Regional finals at 7 p.m. Monday, March 12, at Carver Gym, where WWU will have the opportunity to advance to the national round of eight at the Bank of Kentucky Center in Highland Heights, Ky, with a win.

"It's always a big rivalry when we play together," Blanche said. "I think the key will be whoever is able to play their type of basketball. They are real methodical and like to slow things down."

Western won both previous games against SPU this year.