The GNAC Championship Game!

We realize that we ended up with the titles of these posts being a day off. It made sense in our head as we were going into the third day, but… At this point in the season, we’re exhausted. Really exhausted.

It’s times like this when we’re reaaaally glad these guys are all in their early 20s and have seemingly endless amounts of energy, because the GNAC schedule is brutal. And actually, we remember being on this schedule in undergrad and we were still exhausted. The guys have to be running on pure adrenaline.

Alright men, you have approximately three days to recover and then you’ll be on a plane to San Diego, but… More about that later.

Let’s talk about the GNAC Championship game!

The atmosphere in the gym was interesting. WWU didn’t have a ton of community members in attendance (*coughs* Lacey is better *coughs*) and so the vast majority of people that were there were friends and family of the teams, and… Things were tense. Not in a bad way, just in a “everyone is really focused on getting this win and no one trusts anything,” way.

There was no way to say which way it would go. The thing is, WOU has a number of players that can get really hot: Brandell Evans, Dalven Brushier, Kaleb Warner, Riley Hawken, Darius Lubom, and Buster Souza have all had nights of seeming unstoppable. Seattle Pacific… It’s much more balanced. They don’t necessarily have a go-to guy this year and their “shooters” (as in, guys that are elite from beyond the arc) are underclassmen.

One of our favorite sayings is “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and despite absolutely elite and phenomenal defense from the Wolves, no WOU player got “hot” and as such… Teamwork made the dream work for Seattle Pacific.

#4 Western Oregon 66 vs. #2 Seattle Pacific 78

Does the final score tell the whole story? Not really. SPU was hot early, 32% free throw shooter Coleman Wooten went 2-2 from the line early and so we wondered if something special was brewing for the Falcons, and honestly… Not really? It was a pure grind-it-out game on both sides. SPU would work up a small lead and then WOU would work back into it. Right around the three minute mark was when SPU started to go up for good, but… At the time we definitely didn’t know, because a lead of 12 is still only four possessions and with the type of defense WOU plays and the number of shooters they have, it wasn’t insurmountable if SPU got apathetic.

Ultimately, yes, SPU did win, and we swear their largest lead was by 16 there at the end before letting WOU get a couple of easy baskets knowing they were moot, but… Was it a blow-out? No. Never. WOU’s win over SMU felt like a blow-out as SMU helplessly chucked up shot after shot, even with five or six minutes left. WOU was methodical in everything they did and didn’t go to the shoot-and-hope method until the final two minutes, which actually makes strategic sense.

Wolves highlights: Etan Collins had 12 points and seven boards; and Riley Hawken had six boards. Off the bench Darius Luborn had 14 points and four boards; O’landa Baker had 13 points and five boards; Jaylyn Richardson had three assists; Buster Souza had 10 points and six boards on good shooting; and Cameron Cranston had three boards.

Falcon highlights: COLEMAN WOOTEN WENT 6-6 FROM THE LINE!!!!! and had 25 points and 11 boards for the double-double; Harry Cavell had five boards among a flawless full house of stats; Nikhil Lizotte had 14 points; and Gavin Long had 17 points. Off the bench Sam Simpson had five points and four boards among a full house of stats; and Divant’e Moffitt had seven points.

Notable things about the numbers… We’re stunned about the lack of numbers from the WOU starters. Kaleb Warner rarely gets hot, and it seems like most GNAC teams have gotten really good at shutting down Riley Hawken, but for the entirety of their starting line-up to put up a collective 24 points and 14 rebounds is insane. Credit where credit is due, Seattle Pacific defense. We’re stunned. They also forced WOU into 15 turnovers, which is an insanely high number for the Wolves. That said, it should also be noted that WOU out-rebounded the Falcons, so credit where credit is due Wolves.

This game was just amazing in every sense of the word, and yes we’re an SPU person so it ended happily in our case, but… We love these WOU players. It’s a privilege to watch them play defense. It’s beautiful to watch them get hot on offense. We keep waiting for Dalven Brushier to have another lights-out game. It was great to get to witness Kaleb Warner get hot against SMU. It’s been fantastic watching Buster Souza finally come into his own, and as much as it’s occurring late… Better late than never, and what better time than in March?

A WOU player noted to us afterward that all year they’ve thought SPU and WOU were the two best teams in the GNAC, and we completely agree. All year, SPU and WOU have been the only teams proven to have an ability to play true fundamental basketball. The thing about college basketball… A college coach can’t really teach fundamentals. There’s just not the time. If the players haven’t grown up playing fundamental basketball and cultivated those skills, they’re not going to all of a sudden appear in college, let alone be able to develop over the course of a season.

Athleticism and coaching talent can lead you to wins, but it’s rarely going to work when you come up against a team that has good-to-great coaching, athleticism, and good-to-great fundamentals, especially with everything on the line.

Now, which teams will get to put it all on the line in the West Region tournament… Is a discussion for the next post we put up.

As for the GNAC tourney experience…

Thank God WWU hosting is over. Please never again. Please never anywhere but at Saint Martin’s again.

The home court advantage thing is clearly moot and all it does is exhaust all of the players even more because of unnecessary travel. Yes, compared to Billings and Anchorage, Bellingham isn’t that bad, and it was nice that both the SFU men and women got to play close-to-home in a year when they both made it, but that was a fluke.

Saint Martin’s is advantageous for everyone because it is:

  • Centrally located.
  • The locals show up even when SMU isn’t playing.
  • Their athletic staff is used to hosting.
  • They have no power-tripping arena staff.
  • Their gym has a nice intimate feel, but holds a large amount of people.
  • Their concession options are good.
  • Their athletic facility doesn’t share a parking lot with anyone and so it’s both conveniently located and unoccupied except for people attending the event at Marcus Pavilion.

The concessions at this tournament were seriously inadequate, and it’s not even like we’re super committed to buying arena food; we just like having the option. We opted to go hungry. They only had polish sausages and bratwursts and they ran out before the final game of the night on Thursday. No nachos, no popcorn, no pizza, only two different kinds of chips, a bit of candy, and admittedly a decent drink selection, but… Vending machines have decent drink selections and don’t charge $3 a bottle.

As for the drama during the NNU/SPU game… We’ll leave it at the fact that things were handled poorly by the higher-ups, and ♫ In one shining moment ♫ we had the clapback of our lives. One of the women called us a “F***IN’ PU**Y!!” and we responded “HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!!” with a big grin. It was International Women’s Day and we will never clapback that hard again, so we’re enjoying the afterglow.

Thanks so much for a fantastic GNAC Championship game, and… The final bracketology post of the year will be up by 7pm.

Be safe, have fun, go GNAC!