Vikings and Seattle Pacific battle one last time for spot in Elite Eight

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Ryan Diggs
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Ryan Diggs
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

March 12, 2006

SEATTLE, Wash. - They've battled for the top two spots in the region all season, and now there's one last battle to settle it.

Western Washington University meets host Seattle Pacific University in the West Regional Final of the NCAA Division II National Tournament at SPU's Royal Brougham Pavilion. The winner advances to the NCAA II Elite Eight at Springfield, Mass., on March 22-25.

The Vikings, ranked No.16 in the NABC/NCAA II Top 25, enter 23-6 overall. They reached the regional final with a 100-86 victory over Humboldt State in the opening round Friday and a 101-91 triumph over Chaminade in the regional semifinal Saturday.

Seattle Pacific, ranked 10th nationally, enters 24-5. The Falcons defeated Central Washington, 86-76, in the opening round, then topped Cal State Bakersfield, 81-75, in Saturday's semifinals. The Falcons are the top seed in the region, moving past the Vikings in the final regional rating after Western had gone ahead the previous week.

Western and Seattle Pacific split two meetings in the regular season, with each team winning on its home floor. The Vikings claimed a 95-84 triumph at Bellingham on Jan.21, then the Falcons won a 90-86 nailbiter at Seattle on Feb. 16, as Western had a go-ahead 3-pointer rim out with six seconds left.

Both teams are led by duos of high scoring seniors. For Western, guard Ryan Diggs and forward Grant Dykstra rank first and third in the GNAC in scoring, respectively. Diggs is averaging 21.8 points a contest, and had a school-record 47 points in the victory over Humboldt State. Dykstra, who had a game-high 29 points against Chaminade, is averaging 21.1 a game.

Dykstra is Western's career scoring leader with 1,837 points, and Diggs is second with 1,768.

For Seattle Pacific, guards Tony Binetti and Dustin Bremerman are both averaging 18.7 points a game, Binetti being just one point ahead of Bremerman on the season. Binetti has scored 22 points in each of the regional games, and Bremerman had 27 points in the regular-season victory over Western, hitting 7-of-8 3-pointers.

The Falcons have won regional titles in 1965 and 2000, reaching the national semifinals in the latter visit. They hosted the regional tourney each of those years.

Western won its lone regional championship in 2001, its first ever NCAA appearance. The Vikings also reached the national semifinals that year.

The winner of Monday's game faces the South Region champion in a national quarterfinal on Mar. 22. Montevallo AL and Arkansas-Monticello meet in the South Region final at Cleveland, Miss., on Tuesday.

Western, Seattle Pacific in title game tonight

Teams play for 3rd time this season; winner advances to Elite Eight

DOUG PACEY, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

SEATTLE - There's not much the two teams in the NCAA Division II West Regional final don't know about each other.

Second-seeded Western Washington University and No. 1 Seattle Pacific University have played each other twice this season - the teams split, each winning at home. And they will play a third time as Western Washington plays Seattle Pacific in today's final at 7 p.m.

The Vikings (23-6) sat in the stands on Saturday night at Brougham Pavilion, watching the Falcons (24-5) win their semifinal.

"They're a good team," said WWU senior guard Ryan Diggs. "They've got a big guy in Robbie Will and they have good shooters."

Earlier that evening, SPU eyeballed Western as the Vikings cruised past Chaminade. The Falcons could not have liked what they were seeing - a healthy Diggs.

When the Vikings lost 90-86 on Feb. 16 at SPU, Diggs was still struggling with a sprained ankle. In the meeting before the injury, Diggs helped Western to a 95-84 win over the Falcons.

"My ankle was about 70 to 75 percent when we lost to them," Diggs said. "I couldn't do what I wanted to do and that affected the team. But it's all good now."

No kidding.

Diggs is averaging 25.3 points per game in his last six contests. In the first round of the regional, he exploded for a school- and Great Northwest Athletic Conference-record 47 points.

With a healthy Diggs able to penetrate defenses, that gives Viking shooters more room to find an open look on the perimeter. The biggest beneficiary is forward Grant Dykstra, Western's all-time leading scorer. Dykstra, a senior from Everson who was named the Daktronics West Region Player of the Year, struggled a bit offensively when Diggs wasn't fully healthy. But he's back to his scoring ways now - Dykstra nailed 7-of-9 3-pointers against Chaminade, scoring a game-high 29 points.

Center Tyler MacMullen found space near the hoop, scoring 20 points, and forward Tyler Amaya totaled 19. Western made 56.7 percent of its shots from the field and 15 of 27 3-pointers.

The Falcons noticed.

"It definitely has to be a team effort for us," said SPU guard and GNAC Player of the Year Tony Binetti. "We're going to rotate guys, most likely, and help out."

SPU coach Jeff Hironaka said rebounding was the biggest difference in SPU's win over the Vikings last month. The Falcons were out-rebounded by three in their loss, but had a 30-25 advantage in the victory.

Lately, center Robbie Will has been a force for SPU. The 6-foot-10, 275-pound sophomore has 43 points and 22 rebounds in the tournament.

"He's been more aggressive and more active," Viking coach Brad Jackson said.

Then there are shooters Binetti and guard Dustin Bremerman. Binetti has had decent games against Western - he has 29 points in two games - but Bremerman torched the Vikings at SPU. The senior made 7 of 8 3-pointers and scored 27 points in the win over Western.

The winner will move on to the Elite Eight at Springfield, Mass., where it will face the winner of the South Regional. The Vikings and Falcons each have recent experience getting to that round - SPU did it in 2000 and WWU in 2001.

One player on that Western team was Diggs' brother, Shelton.

"He hasn't said much to me about getting to the Elite Eight, the Final Four," Diggs said of Shelton. "But he's always telling me that we've got a good team that's capable of getting there."

We'll find out tonight.