WWU off to NCAA II Elite Eight, first time since 2001, second overall

WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM Team captain Rory Blanche
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM
Team captain Rory Blanche
WWUVIKINGSDOTCOM

March 15, 2012

WWU Elite Eight Game Notes

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Making its second NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearance overall and its first since 2001, the Western Washington University men's basketball team begins action Wednesday (11:30 a.m. Pacific time), March 21, in the national quarterfinals against Midwestern State University TX at The Bank of Kentucky Center on the campus of host Northern Kentucky University at Highland Heights, Kentucky.

The contest can be heard live on KPUG Radio (1170 AM - www.kpug1170.com) with Doug Lange handling play-by-play and Mark Scholten providing color commentary. It also will be webcast at http://www.ncaa.com/sports/basketball-men/d2 and live stats are available at http://nkunorse.com/sports/2012/3/13/MBB_0313121539.aspx.

The 28-5 Vikings, ranked No.12 in the National Association of Basketball Coaches/NCAA II Top 25 Poll, advanced to the Elite Eight with a hard-fought 56-50 victory over No.3 seed Seattle Pacific in the West Regional final.

WWU, making its sixth NCAA national appearance, was the No.1 seed and West Regional host. The Vikings reached the final with a first-round victory over No.8 seed Grand Canyon, 79-73, and defeated No.5 Chico State, 74-65, in the semifinals.

The Vikings' 28 wins tie the school record set in 1988, and their 17 home victories (17-1) this season is a program best. They won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season championship with a 16-2 record.

Midwestern State, 29-3 and rated No.5 nationally, is making its seventh national tournament appearance and third straight trip to the Elite Eight. The Mustangs won the South Central Region championship with a 77-61 win over No. 21Arkansas Tech.

Completing Wednesday's national quarterfinal match-ups are Stonehill MA (24-8, East Region) versus West Liberty WV (32-2, Atlantic Region) at 9 a.m. PT, Alabama-Huntsville (29-3, South Region) versus defending national champion Bellarmine Prep KY (28-3, Midwest Region) at 3 p.m. PT and Metro State CO (25-6, Central Region) versus Montevallo AL (27-7, Southeast Region) at 5:30 p.m. PT.

The semifinals are Thursday, March 22, with the Midwestern State/WWU winner playing the Stonehill/West Liberty State winner at 3 p.m. PT, and the Alabama-Huntsville/Bellarmine winner taking on the Metro State/Montevallo winner at 5:30 p.m. PT.

The championship game will be played on Saturday, March 24 at 10 a.m. PT. That contest will be televised nationally on CBS Sports.

NATIONAL STAT RANKINGS: The Vikings rank 19th nationally among NCAA II schools in scoring offense (80.9 avg.), three-point percentage (38.8, 235-of-605), and field-goal percentage (48.8, 970-of-1987). Midwestern State leads the country in three-point percentage defense (27.5 (139-506) and is seventh in field-goal percentage defense (38.4, 643-1675), ninth in both scoring defense (60.4) and scoring margin (12.3), 16th in steals (9.3) and 18th in rebound margin (6.2).

TOP 25 SUCCESS: WWU has won five of six games this season against top 25-rated NCAA II teams. Two of the victories were over Alaska Anchorage (No.8 and No.17) and one each against Seattle Pacific (No.24), BYU Hawaii (No.3) and Rollins FL (No.10). The Vikings' lone loss was to Alabama Huntsville (No.18), now ranked second and competing in the Elite Eight as the South Region champion.

WWU VERSUS TOP 25 TEAMS:

Nov. 21 defeated No.3 BYU-Hawaii, 88-69 - Bellingham
Dec. 3 defeated No.19 Seattle Pacific, 79-71 - Seattle
Dec. 15 defeated No.10 Rollins FL, 80-61 - Las Vegas, NV
Dec. 16 lost to No.18 Alabama Huntsville, 77-74 - Las Vegas, NV
Feb. 9 defeated No.17 Alaska Anchorage, 59-50 - Bellingham
Feb. 23 defeated No.24 Seattle Pacific, 72-70 - Bellingham

FREE THROW HIGHS AND LOWS: This season, WWU is shooting 76.1 percent (239-314) at the free-throw line on the road (includes neutral site games) and 68.8 percent (256-372) at home. The Vikings are hitting 72.2 percent (495-686) overall. They shot just 51.9 percent (28-of-54) at the free throw line during the regional tournament which they hosted. WWU shot just six free throws (made three) in the regional final win over Seattle Pacific.

VICTORIES: The Vikings' 28 victories tie the school record and their 17 home wins (one loss) is a program best. WWU also won 28 games in 1987-88, winning the NAIA District 1 title and reaching the second round at nationals. The Vikings' previous best home court victory total was 16 achieved during the 1987-88 and 2000-01 seasons.

2012 WEST REGION CHAMPS: WWU captured the West Regional crown with a 56-50 victory over No.3 seed Seattle Pacific in the championship game on March 12. The Vikings, who were the No.1 seed and tourney host, reached the final with a first-round victory over No.8 seed Grand Canyon, 79-73, and defeated No.5 Chico State, 74-65, in the semifinals. It was the sixth regional appearance and the third final for WWU (joined NCAA in 1998), which has been the host on five of those occasions.

In 2001, the Vikings defeated Cal State San Bernardino, 58-55, for the title and got to the national semifinals. In 2006, they lost 81-77 in the regional final to host Seattle Pacific.

20 WINS: WWU's 20-win season is its third in the last four years and the 12th for the Vikings in Brad Jackson's 27 seasons as head coach.

WEST REGION SUCCESS AT ELITE EIGHT: Last year, West Region representative BYU-Hawaii reached the national championship game before losing and in 2010 Cal Poly Pomona won the national title contest after beating WWU, 76-75 in overtime, in the regional semifinals. Cal Poly Pomona also reached the national final in 2009.

WWU AD WAS STANDOUT HOOPS COACH: Lynda Goodrich is in her 25th year as Director of Athletics at WWU. Prior to that, she was a Hall of Fame women's basketball coach for the Vikings with 411 wins in 19 seasons. That included 18 post-season appearances with three trips to the AIAW National Tournament and two trips to the NAIA National Tournament.

MIDWESTERN STATE: MSU, located in Wichita Falls, TX, is 29-3 overall and ranked No.5 nationally. The Mustangs won their third straight South Central Region title with a 77-61 victory over No.21 Arkansas Tech and took the Lone Star Conference championship for the sixth consecutive season. MSU opened the season with 13 wins and comes into the Elite Eight riding a seven-game winning streak. The Mustangs have 110 wins since the start of the 2008-09 campaign, tied with defending national champion Bellarmine for the most in NCAA II during that stretch.

MSU is led by 6-1 senior guard Michael Loyd (13.0 ppg, 3.5 apg), a first-team Daktronics West Region and LSC all-star who transferred two years ago from Brigham Young. Loyd was named the Most Outstanding Player at the South Central Regional.

Three more standouts for the Mustangs are 6-3 senior guard Keonte' Logan (4.7 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.7 spg), who shared the LSC top defensive player honor; 6-6 senior forward David Terrell (9.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, .677 FG Pct.) and 6-3 junior guard JaMichael Rivers (10.8 ppg). Both Terrell and Rivers received LSC all-star honorable mention. Rivers transferred from Snead State JC when he averaged 19.6 points, second nationally in the JC ranks.

Coaching MSU is Nelson Haggerty, who earned LSC Coach of the Year honors in his first year at the helm after two years as the Mustangs' top assistant. Haggerty took over when Grant McCasland left to join the Baylor coaching staff. Haggerty also was an assistant at Central Missouri on teams that reached the Elite Eight in 2007 and 2009.

BLANCHE: Senior forward Rory Blanche is a first-team NABC and Daktronics West Region all-star, unanimous first-team GNAC all-star, and a West Regional all-tournament pick. He paces the Vikings in both points and rebounds with respective per game averages of 16.1 and 7.1. Blanche ranks 14th nationally in field-goal shooting at 59.3 percent (227-of-383).

Blanche, who is 14th all-time in WWU career scoring with 1,233 points (needs 18 to move into tie for 13th), has had seven double-doubles in points and rebounds this season and has scored double-figure points in 47 of his last 51 games. He scored a career-high 30 points in a 77-67 win at Northwest Nazarene on Feb. 16.

Blanche was a first-team CoSIDA Capital One NCAA II Academic All-American, just the third Viking student-athlete in any sport to receive that honor, and earned GNAC Academic all-star honors for the third straight season.

ALLEN: Junior guard John Allen was named the 2012 West Regional Most Outstanding Player and was a second-team all-GNAC pick for the second straight year. He is averaging 14.7 points and ranks 12th nationally and led the league in free throw percentage at 88.7 (86-of-97).

Last year, Allen scored 43 points in a win over Simon Fraser, the second-highest total ever by a WWU player and a school record at Carver Gym.

Allen had 32 points, the most by a Viking this season, on 12-of-14 field-goal shooting in a 99-86 win over Central Washington on Jan. 18 before a regional TV audience and 2,012 fans.

HENIFIN: Senior forward Zach Henifin, a West Regional all-tournament pick, is averaging 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds.

WOODWORTH: Sophomore guard Richard Woodworth, who is averaging 10.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists, led the conference in three-point accuracy at 48.0 percent (36-of-75). He received GNAC all-star honorable mention.

MITCHELL: Rounding out the first five is junior center Chris Mitchell, who is averaging 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds. He is shooting 40.2 percent (33-82) from three-point range. Mitchell was a repeat selection on the GNAC Academic all-star team.

BENCH: Top players off the bench have been junior guard Rico Wilkins (7.5 ppg), junior forward Paul Jones (7.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg), who is hitting 86.6 percent (58-of-67) at the free-throw line; senior center Dan Young (2.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.1 bpg), and sophomore guard Dane Thorpe (2.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg).

2012 NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Championship

at Highland Heights, Ky (host Northern Kentucky)

(All times - Eastern)

Quarterfinals - Wednesday, March 21

Noon

Stonehill College Skyhawks (24-8, #2 East Region seed) Easton, Massachusetts (2nd Elite Eight and 12th NCAA appearance) Coach David McLaughlin (Purple and White) vs. No. 3 West Liberty University Hilltoppers (32-2, #1 Atlantic Region seed) vs. West Liberty, West Virginia (2nd Elite Eight and fourth NCAA appearance) Coach Jim Crutchfield (Black and Gold)

2:30 p.m.

No. 5 Midwestern State University Mustangs (29-3, #1 South Central Region seed) Wichita Falls, Texas (3rd Elite Eight and seventh NCAA appearance) Coach Nelson Haggerty (Maroon and Gold) vs. No. 12 Western Washington University Vikings (28-5, #1 West Region seed) Bellingham, Washington (2nd Elite Eight and sixth NCAA appearance) Coach Brad Jackson (Navy Blue, Slate Blue, Silver and White)

6 p.m.

No. 2 University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (29-3, #1 South Region seed) Huntsville, Alabama (2nd Elite Eight and sixth NCAA appearance) Coach Lennie Acuff (Royal Blue and White) vs. No. 4 Bellarmine University Knights (28-3, #1 Midwest Region seed) Defending 2011 NCAA Champions Louisville, Kentucky (2nd Elite Eight and 13th NCAA appearance) Coach Scott Davenport (Scarlet and Silver)

8:30 p.m.

No. 13 Metropolitan State College of Denver Roadrunners (25-6, #2 Central Region seed) Denver, Colorado (6th Elite Eight and 16th NCAA appearance) Coach Derrick Clark (Navy Blue and Red) vs. No. 22 University of Montevallo Falcons (27-7, #1 Southeast Region seed) vs. Montevallo, Alabama (3rd Elite Eight and seventh NCAA appearance) Coach Danny Young (Purple and Gold)

Semifinals - Thursday, March 22

7 p.m.

Stonehill/West Liberty State winner vs. Midwestern State/Western Washington winner

9:30 p.m.

Alabama-Huntsville/Bellarmine winner vs. Metro State/Montevallo winner

Championship - Saturday, March 24

1 p.m. - Televised on CBS Sports

2012 NCAA DIVISION II WEST REGIONAL

host Western Washington University

Sam Carver Gymnasium - Bellingham, Wash.

March 9 (Fri.)

Game #1 - No.3 Seattle Pacific 70 vs. No.6 Dixie State 68 Game #2 - No.2 Alaska Anchorage 80 vs. No.7 Montana State Billings 68 Game #3 - No.4 Humboldt State 68 vs. No.5 Chico State 75 Game #4 - No.1 Western Washington 79 vs. No.8 Grand Canyon 73

March 10 (Sat.)

Game #5 - Seattle Pacific 80 vs. Alaska Anchorage 67 Game #6 - Western Washington 74 vs. Chico State 65

March 12 (Mon.)

Game #7 - Western Washington 56 vs. Seattle Pacific 50

WWU NCAA II APPEARANCES:

2001
West Regional at Bellingham, Wash. (host WWU)
Defeated Cal State Bakersfield, 95-86 in overtime, in semifinals
Defeated Cal State San Bernardino, 58-55, in final

Elite Eight at Bakersfield, Calif. (host Cal State Bakersfield) Defeated Queens, 89-85, in quarterfinals Lost to Washburn, 96-90, in semifinals

2005 West Regional at Bellingham, Wash. (host WWU) Defeated Brigham Young-Hawaii, 80-69, in first round Lost to Alaska Fairbanks, 88-66, in semifinals

2006 West Regional at Seattle, Wash. (host Seattle Pacific) Defeated Humboldt State, 100-86, in first round Defeated Chaminade, 101-91, in semifinals Lost to Seattle Pacific, 81-77, in final

2009 West Sub-Regional at Bellingham, Wash. (host WWU) Lost to Seattle Pacific, 82-77, in first round

2010 West Regional at Bellingham, Wash. (host WWU) Defeated Central Washington, 84-70, in first round Lost to Cal Poly Pomona, 76-75 in OT, in semifinals

2011 West Regional at Bellingham, Wash. (host WWU) Defeated Grand Canyon, 79-73, in first round Defeated Chico State, 74-65, in semifinals Defeated Seattle Pacific, 56-50, in final

VIKING NOTES: In their only previous Elite Eight tournament in 2001, the Vikings beat Queens, NC., 89-85, before losing to Washburn, Kans., 96-90 in semifinals ... WWU was No.1 in the West Region in all three ratings prior to the announcing of its No.1 seed on March 4 ... The Vikings have had winning streaks of nine and 10 games this season ... In January, Allen became the first player in GNAC history to earn outright Player of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks ... WWU has made 10 or more treys seven times this season with a high of 14 against Rollins on Dec. 15 ... The Vikings tied a school record for three-point percentage in a game at 66.7, making 12-of-18 at Western Oregon on Feb. 2 ... WWU won its first eight GNAC road games, a league record, finishing 8-1 in a bid to become the first team in the league's 11-year history to go unbeaten on the road during the regular season.

Blanche has 1,233 points and 530 rebounds during his four-year career, and is hitting 60.1 percent (525-of-873, ranks fourth in GNAC history) from the field ... Henifin was named GNAC Player of the Week for his all-tournament performance at the Great Western Shootout and Woodworth earned the that honor in leading WWU's home sweep of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks ... Both Allen and Blanche were all-tournament picks at the Disney West Coast Classic ... In mid-January, the Vikings became just the second school in GNAC history to sweep an Alaskan road trip two straight years. In all, they have a conference best four sweeps in the 49th state ... WWU lost senior forward Shedrick Nelson, a top reserve, for the season against Notre Dame de Namur on Nov. 11 when he tore both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee near the end of the game.

WWU ACADEMIC HONORS: Rory Blanche was named a first-team CoSIDA Capital One NCAA II Academic All-American. He also was a first-team academic all-district honoree and a GNAC Academic all-star for the third time. Blanche is a manufacturing engineering technology major maintaining a 3.74 grade point average (4.0 scale) ... Chris Mitchell was a repeat selection as a GNAC Academic all-star. He is a physical education major with a 3.43 GPA.

COACH JACKSON: Brad Jackson is in his 27th season, the longest tenure of any coach in WWU history in any sport. Named this season's NABC West District and GNAC Coach of the Year, he is the most successful men's basketball coach in school history, both in total wins (514-279) and winning percentage (.648). Prior to this season, Jackson ranked No.13 among active NCAA II coaches in victories.

Jackson has directed the Vikings to 20 post-season appearances and 12 20-win seasons during his tenure. WWU reached the regional semifinals in 2010, losing 76-75 in overtime to eventual national champion Cal Poly Pomona.

The Jackson-led Vikings also have gotten to the NCAA II tournament in 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2009. In 2001, they finished 27-4, won the regional title and reached the national semifinals, Jackson being named NABC/NCAA II West Region, Northwest small college and Pacific West Conference Coach of the Year.

Jackson served as an assistant coach at Seattle Pacific for five years under Keith Swagerty (1976-80). Jackson is married to the former Debbie Halle, a four-time All-America gymnast at Seattle Pacific from 1974-77.

JACKSON MILESTONE VICTORIES:

No.1 - Nov. 23, 1985 - WWU 89, British Columbia 78 - Victoria, B.C.
No. 100 - Jan. 16, 1990 - WWU 73, Seattle U. 63 - Seattle, WA
No. 200 - Feb. 16, 1995 - WWU 71, Puget Sound 63 - Tacoma, WA
No. 276 - Jan. 4, 2001 - WWU 81, Chaminade 77 - Honolulu, HI
(becomes school's all-time victory leader in men's basketball)
No. 300 - Nov. 23, 2001 - WWU 98, Southern Colorado 70 - Bellingham
No. 400 - Nov. 18, 2006 - WWU 67, Cal State L.A. 66 - Seattle, WA
No. 412 - Nov. 23, 2007 - WWU 85, Northwest 69 - Bellingham
(becomes school's all-time win leader for all sports)
No. 450 - Nov. 21, 2009 - WWU 87, Dominican CA 72 - Seattle, WA
No. 500 - Jan. 5, 2012 - WWU 76, Saint Martin's 71 - Bellingham

JACKSON'S 500TH: The Vikings' win over Saint Martin's on Jan. 5 was the 500th career victory for WWU coach Brad Jackson (current total 515), who became just the fifth four-year college hoop mentor in the state of Washington to reach that milestone and the 40th in NCAA II men's history. The previous four coaches in the state to accumulate 500 wins were Marv Harshman (Pacific Lutheran, Washington State, Washington) 637, Dean Nicholson (Central Washington) 620, Hec Edmundson (Washington) 508 and Leo Nicholson (Central Washington) 505.

500-WIN FOUR-YEAR COLLEGIATE COACHES IN STATE OF WASHINGTON:

637 - Marv Harshman (Pacific Lutheran, Washington State, Washington)
620 - Dean Nicholson (Central Washington)
515 - Brad Jackson (Western Washington)
508 - Hec Edmundson (Washington)
505 - Leo Nicholson (Central Washington)

2010-11 RECAP: WWU returns four starters from last year's squad that finished 16-11 and reached the first round of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament. Allen earned second-team GNAC all-star honors, averaging 14.3 points a game, including 43 in a victory over Simon Fraser, the second highest point total ever by a WWU player and a school record at Carver Gym. The Washington State transfer also led WWU in assists (4.1) and steals (1.7), and shot 91.5 percent at the free-throw line (65-of-71), which ranked second nationally. Blanche received honorable mention all-GNAC recognition, averaging 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 62.8 percent from the field to rank 14th nationally.

GNAC COACHES TAB VIKINGS THIRD: WWU was picked to finish third in the preseason GNAC coaches poll. Alaska Anchorage, which won its only GNAC title in 2008 when it advanced to the NCAA II national semifinals, edged Seattle Pacific, 95-94. Both the Seawolves and Falcons, who won GNAC titles in 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2010 and have qualified for the NCAA II post-season in seven consecutive seasons, each received four first-place votes. Three-time conference champion WWU (2002, 2005, 2009) got a pair of first-place votes and placed third. Defending champion Central Washington was fourth.

RADIO BROADCASTS: Selected WWU games are being broadcast this season on KBAI Radio (930 AM - www.930kbai.com) with Doug Lange handling the play-by-play and Mark Scholten providing the color commentary. They also can be heard on the internet at www.wwuvikings.com.

ON THE WEB: All Viking home games are being video streamed live and are available free at http://wwu.nmtvsports.com. For up-to-date statistics, box scores of every game, records, stories, etc., see the WWU Athletics web page at www.wwuvikings.com. Up-to-date league standings and statistics can be found on the Great Northwest Athletic Conference web page at www.pennatlantic.com.

PROBABLE WESTERN STARTERS & TOP RESERVES:

G John Allen, 6-0, *Jr., Brier/Mountlake Terrace/Washington State
G Richard Woodworth, 6-3, **Jr., Bellevue/Newport
C Chris Mitchell, 6-8, **Jr., Everson/Nooksack Valley
F Zach Henifin, 6-5, *Sr., Bellingham/Whatcom CC
F Rory Blanche, 6-6, ***Sr., Ashland, OR/Ashland

F Paul Jones, 6-4, JC-Jr., Kent/Kent-Meridian/Whatcom CC G Rico Wilkins, 6-0, Jr., Dallas, TX/DeSoto/Yakima Valley CC C Dan Young, 6-10, *Sr., Federal Way/Lakewood/Highline CC G Dane Thorpe, 6-3, *So, Bellingham/Sehome G Cameron Severson, 6-5, Jr., Petersburg, AK/Petersburg *letters

CARVER GYM CELEBRATES 50TH ANNIVERSARY: Dedicated on March 30, 1962, WWU's Sam Carver Gymnasium is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season. It is named for Sanford E. Carver, a NAIA Hall of Famer who was Western's first director of athletics and the chairman of the physical education department from 1914-55. Carver Gym was an addition to the existing physical education facility. It added 54,233 square feet of floor space at a cost of $1.04 million. The most significant addition was the present main gymnasium. The facility opened in time for the 1961-62 basketball season, although it wasn't named for Carver until the dedication ceremony the following spring. Dr. James L. Jarrett, then Western's president, and Dr. E.V. Pullias, a professor at the University of Southern California, were the main speakers at the gathering. Basketball has been one of the primary activities at Carver Gym. The Seattle Pacific men were Western's opponent in the first game played on the new floor on Dec. 6, 1961. The Viking men have racked up an impressive record during their time in the building, going 501-157 (76.1 percent) in 50 years.

RECENT GAME SUMMARIES:

March 9 - WWU 79, Grand Canyon 73 - West Region (First Round) at Bellingham

John Allen scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the first half as WWU built a 25-point lead, but the Vikings had to hold off a furious comeback from Grand Canyon in the second half before earning a 79-73 win in the first round of the West Regional at Carver Gym. WWU jumped to a 14-1 lead in the first 3:44 of the game. After Rory Blanche hit a jumper to start the game, Allen scored the Vikings' next seven points. GCU finally got on the board with a free throw, but Blanche hit a jumper and Chris Mitchell nailed a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 13 points. Later in the half, WWU had runs of 7-0 to go ahead 25-9 and 6-0 to stretch its lead to 31-11. The Vikings eventually went on top by 25 at 42-17 with four minutes left in the first half and were up by 21 at halftime, 48-27. But, GCU, which ended its season at 19-8, chipped away in the second half cutting the deficit to 12 points on four different occasions. WWU rebuilt its lead to 18 at 63-45 on a layup by Allen with 12:41 remaining and maintained a double-digit advantage until a three-pointer by reserve Blake Davis at 5:54 and a layup by forward Jerome Garrison pulled the Antelopes within nine, 70-61, with 5:19 remaining. The Antelopes climbed to within six at 71-65 with 3:46 left on two free throws by Blake and again at 73-67 on a jumper by Justin Wesolowski with 3:05 to go. But Blanche's jumper with 1:47 left re-established the lead at eight. Two baskets by Braylon Pickrel cut the Vikings' lead to four with 44 seconds remaining, but WWU finally put the game away at the foul line as Cameron Severson made two with 28 seconds left and Blanche converted two more with 16 seconds remaining to open the lead back to eight. Allen made six of seven shots in the opening period, finishing the contest with 10 field goals in 16 attempts. Blanche was also in double figures with 16 points, making all six of his field goal attempts. GCU was led by Pickrel with 18 points, including 16 in the second half. Davis came off the bench to add 11, nine after the intermission. The Antelopes, who had won nine straight, made 19 of 29 second-half shots (65.5 percent) to key their comeback and also benefited from 12-of-26 free throw shooting by WWU, which converted just seven of 18 in the second half. For the game, WWU shot 52.5 percent (31-of-59) after firing at a 59.4 percent clip (19-of-32) in the opening 20 minutes. GCU rebounded from a 34.8 percent first half (8-of-23) to finish the game at 51.9 percentage (27-of-52).

March 10 - WWU 74, Chico State 65 - West Region (Semifinal) at Bellingham

Rory Blanche and Zach Henifin combined for 25 of their 34 points in the second half to lead top-seeded WWU to a 74-65 win over fifth-seed Chico State in a semifinal of the West Regional Tournament at Carver Gym. Blanche scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and Henifin had 10 of his 17 after the intermission. WWU also got 13 points from John Allen and 11 from Richard Woodworth. Forward Sean Park led Chico State, which finished at 25-8, with 13 points and a game-high five assists, while Amir Carraway had 11 points and Jason Conrad scored 10. The Vikings trailed 35-30 early in the second half, but took the lead for good on a tip-in by Henifin, the first of six consecutive Viking points by the WWU forward. Henifin added a jumper to put his team ahead 45-42, and made two free throws a few moments later for a 47-44 lead. WWU still led by just three with nine minutes left, 54-51, but the Vikings scored seven consecutive points getting a jumper from Woodworth, a three-pointer from Rico Wilkins and a jumper from Paul Jones to go ahead by 10, 61-51, with 6:37 left. Chico State climbed back to within five points, 63-58, on a three-pointer by Damario Sims with 3:43 remaining, but Allen hit a three-pointer to re-establish an eight-point lead just inside the two-minute mark. The Wildcats cut that deficit to six on two free throws by Park with 1:42 remaining, but two free throws by Woodworth and a spectacular tip-in by Henifin with 58 seconds left gave WWU a double-digit lead effectively sealing the victory. WWU shot 50 percent from the floor (29-of-58), while holding Chico State to a 35.8 percentage (19-of-53) including just 33.3 percent (9-of-27) in the second half, while also earning a draw on the backboards (36-36) and having seven fewer turnovers (8-15). The win was the 500th for WWU in its 50 years at Carver Gym.

March 12 - WWU 56, Seattle Pacific 50 - West Region (Final) at Bellingham

John Allen scored a game-high 16 points and was named regional tournament MVP as WWU defeated Seattle Pacific, 56-50, in the NCAA II West Regional championship game at Carver Gym. Seattle Pacific, the No.3 seed in the regional, completed its season 23-8. Center Andy Poling had 15 points for the Falcons, and forward Jobi Wall added 12 points and 10 rebounds. WWU held a 30-23 lead at halftime, but SPU opened the second half with a 9-2 run to tie the game at 32-32 just 2:07 into the period. However, fastbreak layins by Blanche and Allen triggered a 14-4 run, and the Vikings opened up a 46-36 lead with 10:23 left, the biggest margin of the game. The Falcons rallied again with seven straight points, pulling to within three, 46-43, with 7:23 left, but never got that close again. Zach Henifin had 11 points and Rory Blanche added 10 for the Vikings. The Falcons shot a season-low 28.1 percent (16-of-57) from the field, but stayed close by having a 45-32 advantage in rebounds and making 14-of-20 free throws (70.0 percent). Allen was joined on the all-tournament team by Blanche, Henifin, Poling and SPU'S Jake Anderson, who had eight points and nine rebounds.

MSU in familiar air at Elite 8

Mustangs in for third straight year

By Andy Newberry, J. Scott Russell, Wichita Falls Times-Record

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Last year, the Midwestern State Mustangs were the only team making a second straight trip to the Elite Eight.

And while they will be the only team in Highland Heights, Ky., next week playing in their third straight NCAA Division II quarterfinal game, they won't be the only returning team, as half of last year's field -- including the national champion -- will be back.

The No. 5 Mustangs (29-3) play newcomer Western Washington at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Bank of Kentucky Center.

MSU will be joined by the Bellarmine University Knights (28-3) -- the team that eliminated MSU and was the eventual national champ in 2011 -- as well as the West Liberty Hilltoppers (32-2) and the Alabama-Huntsville Trojans (29-3).

The newcomers in this year's tournament are the Stonehill College Skyhawks (24-8), the Western Washington Vikings (28-5), the Montevallo Falcons (26-7) and the Metro State Roadrunners (25-6).

The four returning teams are all ranked in the top five -- Alabama-Huntsville is No. 2, West Liberty is No. 3 and Bellarmine is No. 4 -- while three of the newcomers are ranked nationally -- No. 12 Western Washington, No. 13 Metro State and No. 22 Montevallo. Stonehill received votes in the final NABC poll of the year.

Tournament play opens at 11 a.m. Wednesday, with Stonehill taking on West Liberty.

After the MSU-Western Washington game, Alabama-Huntsville and Bellarmine will square off at 5 p.m.

At least one of the newcomers will reach the second round because Metro State and Montevallo will play each other in the final game at 7:30 p.m. Metro upset top-ranked Colorado Mines in the Central Regional final.

The semifinals are scheduled for 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 22, with the finals set for noon the following Saturday on CBS.

SEEDING HOLDS UP

The respective regional committees did a pretty good job rating their teams, as No. 1 seeds advanced in six of the eight regions, while No. 2 seeds advanced from the other regions.

The same could not be said last year, as the Mustangs, who were the No. 6 seed in the South Central, were joined by three No. 7 seeds and four No. 1 seeds. Bellarmine was one of the top seeds.

CAN'T COUNT TO 3

Midwestern State couldn't get a lot of separation from its opponents during the South Central Regional until the final six minutes of the final.

A lot of that was an increase in competition, but some of it was an inability to knock down 3-pointers.

MSU made only 10 of 47 (21 percent) from 3-pont range in its own gym, which was quite a striking difference from the way the Mustangs shot the ball the previous week at the Lone Star Conference Tournament in Allen.

JaMichael Rivers, who leads MSU with 53 3-pointers on the year, was the only consistent threat, hitting at least twice in each game. In fact, Rivers was 7-of-18 (39 percent), while his teammates shot a collective 3-of-29 (10 percent) from long range.

The Mustangs made 26 3-pointers in their sweep through the LSC Tournament and made a combined 19-of-37 (51 percent) during wins over Cameron and Tarleton State.

NOT SO TERRIBLE 2's

While the 3-point shooting went away, MSU's conversion rate in the paint and with midrange jumpers went up substantially.

The Mustangs missed 19 of 23 shots from two-point range in the conference semifinal win over Cameron and were below 50 percent in all three games in Allen once they penetrated the 3-point arc.

But back home, with tight games and key possessions throughout, the Mustangs made 57 percent (65 of 114) on two-point shots. They made 58 percent (25 of 43) against Arkansas Tech despite missing several tip-ins early in the game.

MSU is making 51 percent from two-point range on the season, but Kevin Grayer, 8-of-9 on two-point tries, helped that increase with the season on the line. That helped make up for the absence of Anthony Harris.

The dunk shot has been a weapon, too, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the made field goals.

The Mustangs also made their free throws when it counted, with an increase of eight percent from the season numbers to the regional tournament. MSU made 51-of-74 (69 percent) in the tournament and is 62-of-88 (70 percent) dating back to the LSC final.

MSU is at 61 percent on free throws for the year and made only 59 percent in 18 conference games.

Ready to celebrate

The Midwestern State fans weren't the only ones in celebrating mood on Tuesday night. Kevin Grayer relayed his thoughts at halftime, when MSU and Arkansas Tech were tied at 29-29,

"In the locker room at halftime, I said we need to be celebrating with six minutes left," Grayer said. "I meant what I said. Our mission was to come out and jump on them early.

"I felt we were making mistakes in the first half, it wasn't really them. I felt real confident if we could come out and execute."

His coach shared his vision of the execution strategy, but wasn't doing any celebrating until the final minute when he was able to empty his bench completely.

Sticking to the plan

Michael Loyd, the MOP of the South Central Regional and leading scorer for MSU this year with 13 points per game, talked about defense when asked about the national tournament next week.

"When we work on guarding, we get easy transition buckets," Loyd said. "We have to rely on our defense. These teams from the other divisions and conferences have sets that they know and they run, and we have to go in and play on our principles and rebound and do our detail work on defense and the outcomes will be good."