With just five games left in the women’s basketball regular season, they’re all important for the Seattle Pacific Falcons.
But the only one that matters most is the next one, regardless of opponent. And this week’s opponent is one of the best teams not only in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, but in the entire West Region.
That would be No. 23-ranked Montana State Billings, which comes to town on Saturday to tangle with SPU in Brougham Pavilion. Tip-off is at 2:00 p.m.
Coming off a home split against Saint Martin’s (a 71-58 win) and Western Oregon (a 57-52 loss), the Falcons (12-9, 7-6 GNAC) face a tough task in MSUB. The Yellowjackets are 20-4 overall, 11-2 in GNAC play. They are the first conference team to reach 20 wins, and one of just two in the West, the other one being Cal State Dominguez Hills at 21-1.
THAT MAKES 7 RANKED OPPONENTS
The contest against No. 23 Billings will be SPU’s seventh against a national top-25 team.
It started on the opening weekend of the season with games against then-No. 12 Cal State San Marcos (the Cougars won, 70-62), and the next day against No. 21 Azusa Pacific (the Falcons got that one, 70-64). The following weekend, it was in Denver against No. 21 Colorado School of Mines (the Orediggers prevailed, 65-54).
Conference play opened at then-No. 11 Alaska Anchorage (the Seawolves won, 62-54). The 2022 calendar year ended on New Year’s Eve at home against No. 22 Central Washington, and Seattle Pacific claimed a 70-63 decision. Western Washington, then ranked No. 6, was in Brougham Pavilion on Jan. 19, and that one went down to the wire before the Vikings took it, 58-53.
Western (No. 8), Colorado Mines (tie No. 12), San Marcos (No. 25) and Azusa (No. 16) are still ranked in this week’s poll compiled by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Billings is making its first appearance in the top 25 after receiving votes in the previous two polls.
Next Saturday, Feb. 18, will be the eight night against a top-25 team when Seattle Pacific visits Bellingham to take on WWU.
SO WHAT’S THE STORY THIS WEEK?
— Seattle Pacific will be looking to gain a split of the season series against MSUB. The Yellowjackets won on Jan. 14 in Billings, 66-49.
— In that game, the second quarter turned out to be decisive. The Falcons had a 15-10 lead to start the quarter, but shot just 15 percent from the field (2 of 13) and scored only six points while Billings shot 50 percent from the floor (6 of 12), scored 15 points and took a 33-29 halftime lead.
— The Jackets kept it going with 50 percent shooting in the third quarter and 58 percent in the fourth to pull away.
— SPU’s 49 points was a season low. It also had 49 at Northwest Nazarene on Jan. 28.
— Nobody for either team went on a scoring binge. Ashley Alter and Anna Eddy had 10 apiece for the Falcons. Cariann Kunkel and Aspen Giese tallied 12 each for Montana State Billings.
— The Falcon reserves had a particularly productive night against Saint Martin’s last Thursday, contributing 30 points, 19 rebounds, and five blocked shots.
— SPU’s last victory against Billings at home was 79-74 on Jan. 31, 2019. The Yellowjackets won here in 2020 and again in 2022. The teams did not play during the pandemic-abbreviated 2021 schedule.
— Alter is now leading the Falcons in both scoring (14.6 per game, tied for No. 6 in the GNAC) and rebounds (5.8, No. 11).
— Alter’s 40 steals also lead the Falcons, and that total includes a career-high seven last Saturday against Western Oregon. Her 2.1 per-game average is No. 4 in the conference.
— Sophomore center Schuyler Berry is No. 9 in GNAC field goal shooting at .463 (63 of 136).
— Redshirt sophomore point guard Hunter Beirne is No. 5 in assists at 3.6.
— Fifth-year forward Natalie Hoff is No. 7 in GNAC free throw accuracy at .828 (53 of 64). She also is tied for No. 8 in blocked shots at 0.8 (17 total).
— Seattle Pacific remains No. 3 in GNAC defense, allowing just 58.5 points per game.
— The Falcons also continue to vacuum up the rebounds: 77.1 percent of the available opportunities at the defensive end (tied with Western Washington or No. 1 on the conference list) and 34.9 percent at the offensive end (No. 2 behind the Vikings).
— Coach Mike Simonson‘s teams are 2-5 all-time against Montana State Billings.
SCOUTING THE MONTANA STATE BILLINGS YELLOWJACKETS: 20-4, 11-2 GNAC (2nd)
All-time series: SPU leads, 30-26. Current series streak: MSUB won 4. Last time: MSUB 66, SPU 49 (Jan. 14 at Billings). Last SPU series win: SPU 69, MSUB 63 (Jan. 23, 2020 at Billings).
Yellowjackets in a nutshell: Billings has won nine straight games, the current longest winning streak in the GNAC, and all of those since the calendar flipped to 2023. One of those victories was 73-61 against Western Washington on Jan. 21 in Montana, snapping the Vikings’ 14-game winning streak. The Yellowjackets kept it going last week at home by defeating Western Oregon, 76-57, and Saint Martin’s, 59-49. Senior 6-foot-3 forward Taryn Shelly was just coming back to action when MSUB and the Falcons played last month and provided nine points in a reserve role. She’s still providing a big boost off the bench,, now leading the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game on .495 shooting from the field, along with 4.4 rebounds. Sophomore 5-11 forward Dyauni Boyce averages 11.3 points plus a team-high 6.0 rebounds. Cariann Kunkel, a senior 5-10 forward, chips in 10.6 points per game. Junior 5-11 guard Shayla Montague and sophomore 5-8 guard Aspen Giese both average 8.3 points, but can drain ’em from downtown: a team-leading 44 makes for Montague (on .379 shooting) and 35 for Giese (on .354 shooting).
LET’S TALK TOURNAMENT
Seattle Pacific comes into the week in fourth place in the GNAC standings. The Falcons are one game behind third-place Central Washington (8-5), half a game ahead of fifth-place Alaska Anchorage (6-6) and one game ahead of seventh-place Simon Fraser (6-7).
The top six teams in the final standings qualify for the GNAC Tournament, which is set for Thursday through Saturday, March 2-4, in Carver Gymnasium at Western Washington in Bellingham. As of now, the Falcons haven’t clinched a tournament spot, but are well positioned to do so.
First-round games are on March 2 at 5:15 and 7:30 p.m. Semifinals are on March 3, also at 5:15 and 7:30, and the championship game is on March 4 at 7:30.
The tournament champion gets the GNAC’s automatic qualifying berth into the NCAA West Regionals. Automatic spots also go to the California Collegiate Athletic Association and Pacific West Conference tournament champions. That leaves five available at-large berths to be distributed among the teams that do not win their tournaments.
FIRST DOUBLE-DOUBLE …
Maya Hoff came off the bench – and came up big last Thursday at home against Saint Martin’s.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard contributed a career-high 18 points, plus 10 rebounds for her first collegiate double-double. She hit 5 for eight from the field, and 8 of 10 from the free throw line. She missed a pair of free throws in the first quarter, then bounced back with eight makes in a row. The last four of those came inside the final 75 seconds of the game to help the Falcons close out a 71-58 victory.
Hoff previously had a double-digit rebound game, collecting a career-high 12 on Dec. 8 at home against Lincoln of California. But she had just four points that night. Her previous career scoring high had been 13 on Nov. 21, 2021 against Azusa Pacific.
Along with her points and rebounds, Hoff had two blocked shots against the Saints. Her best in that category is three, on Nov. 18 in the season opener against Cal State San Marcos.
… AND CAREER TRIPLE DIGITS
While Hoff was doing the double-double thing things, a couple of her teammates were reaching triple-digits for their careers in certain statistical categories in the Saint Martin’s game.
–Sophomore point guard Hailey Marlow reached 100 career points. She comes into this week with 104.
–Sophomore center Schuyler Berry’s first field goal in that game was her 100th .She has 101.
The next triple-digit milestones within reach is 100 makes from 3-point range for Ashley Alter and 100 assists for Hunter Beirne. Alter has hit 92 treys. Beirne has recorded 86 helpers.
Speaking of milestones: Alter’s 15 points last Saturday put her at 949 for her career. With another 51, she will become the 25th Falcon to reach 1,000.
The Falcons take their final regular-season road trip next week, visiting Simon Fraser on Thursday in Burnaby, B.C., and Western Washington on Saturday in Bellingham. Both games tip off at 7:00 p.m. SPU beat the Red Leafs last month in Seattle, 64-53, but fell to the Vikings, 58-53.