CBT's D2 Women's Update- The GNAC
College basketball players are glad February is the shortest month, because it means March Madness will be here soon. We are just one month away from the 2022 Division II Women’s Basketball Championship. As the postseason draws near, let’s head west and take a glance at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, its rising stars, the hottest teams, and the can't-miss matchups.
Teams on the rise:
1) Central Washington
Central Washington entered February on a roll, with eight straight wins. The Wildcats boast the GNAC’s No. 1 scoring offense at 73.1 points per game. Three redshirts powering head coach Randi Richardson-Thornley’s prolific offense. Redshirt senior guard Kizzah Maltezo leads the conference in scoring at 20 points a game, highlighted by her 29-point performance in the team’s 76-68 upset victory over No. 9 Western Washington on Jan. 13. The second and third options on offense are redshirt senior forward Kassidy Malcolm and redshirt junior center Samantha Bowman, who average 17.5 and 16.3 points respectively.
2) Montana State Billings
After starting out the season with an impressive 5-1 record, the Yellowjackets ran into a brick wall at the end of the calendar year, dropping six of the last eight games of 2021 by an average of 11.8 points. However, head coach Kevin Woodin’s squad entered the new year with a new mindset, going 6-2 in January to catapult to third place in the conference standings. This surge was highlighted by a 72-48 pummeling of No. 9 Alaska Anchorage on Jan. 17, which gave the ‘Jackets team its first road victory over the Seawolves since 2003. Leading the charge in that upset was senior forward Cariann Kunkel and sophomore guard Kortney Nelson, who added 24 and 15 points, respectively, along with a combined 16 rebounds.
3) Seattle Pacific
Although Seattle Pacific had three games rescheduled in January, the Falcons still managed to have success amid the uncertainty, winning three games during the month by an average of 14.7 points. The Falcons’ January success was highlighted by a thrilling 66-64 victory over Simon Fraser on Jan. 6, which ended with a buzzer-beating jumper from senior guard Ashley Alter. Head coach Mike Simonson’s team is led by a stout defense that has given up just 60.1 points per game this season, third best in the conference. Alter, along with senior forward Natalie Hoff, lead the offense, averaging 12.1 and 11.3 points a contest.
Players to watch:
1) Claire Dingus: St. Martin’s
After averaging a double-double last season, the six-foot junior forward has once again cemented her reputation as one of the better players in the conference. Dingus has recorded four double-doubles this season and ranks third in the conference in both scoring and rebounding, racking up 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds a game. The Spokane Valley, Washington, native is also performing on the defensive end, averaging 2.3 steals a game -- second in the conference. Dingus’ versatility was on full display in the Saint’s 76-65 victory over Simpson Dec. 17, where she recorded 24 points, five assists, five steals and four rebounds.
2) Meadow Aragon: Western Oregon
After starting just 11 of 27 games last season, Aragon has inserted herself into the Wolves’ starting lineup due to her elite play on both ends. The sophomore forward has shown off her offensive prowess inside the paint, reaching double figures in eight of the team’s 11 games, including a 17-point performance Jan. 27 against Simon Fraser. Aragon has also scored at a highly efficient rate, shooting a conference-leading 60 percent from the field. On the defensive end, the Grass Valley, California, native is a force inside the paint, registering 2.5 blocks a game -- second in the GNAC.
3) Gemma Cutler: Simon Fraser
Cutler has made an immediate impact for head coach Bruce Langford’s squad in her freshman campaign, emerging as one of the top bench threats in the conference. Although she has started just one game, the six-foot-two forward has stepped up on both ends of the floor, averaging 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds a contest. Cutler’s strong play has picked up in the past month, as she has reached double figures in points in three of her last five games. -- including a 15 point, 7 rebound performance Jan. 6 against Seattle Pacific. This recent offensive surge for the North Vancouver native has propelled her to third in the GNAC with a 58.8 field goal percentage.
Matchups to Watch:
1) Western Washington v. Northern Nazarene: February 10
This early February matchup will pit Western Washington’s smothering defense against Northern Nazaren’s explosive offense for the first time this season. The Vikings defense -- which has powered the team to a 12-1 start and No. 9 ranking in the NABC Coaches Poll -- leads the GNAC in both points allowed and defensive shooting percentage, holding its opponents to just 52.7 points a game and 32.9 percent shooting. On the other hand, the Nighthawks currently own the second-best scoring offense in the conference at 71.2 points per game. Head coach Steve Steele’s team will also enter the matchup with three players averaging double figures in points, with sophomore forward Nyalam Thabach,, freshman forward Teagan Thurman, and junior guard/forward Erin Jenkins averaging 13.3, 12.5 and 11.4 points, respectively.
2) Alaska Anchorage at Alaska Fairbanks: February 12
When Alaska Fairbanks faces off against its in-state rival for the 75th time, it will be looking to break a 14-year drought. The Nanooks have failed to record a victory against the Seawolves in their last 27 meetings, dating all the way back to 2008. If head coach Jessie Craig’s team is to pull off the upset and break the skid, it will need to lean on the offensive production of freshman guard Pearle Green. The Galena, Alaska, native is tied for sixth in the GNAC in scoring at 15 points per game and led the Nanooks with 13 points in their 76-50 loss to the Seawolves on Jan. 15.
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