Autummn Williams got it started and Tara Thompson finished it off.
The two University of Alaska Anchorage guards combined for 45 points, including nine 3-point baskets, as the Seawolves claimed the Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball championship Saturday with a 79-70 victory over Western Washington at Marcus Pavilion on the Saint Martin’s University campus.
Williams scored 17 first half points and Thompson, a hometown product from Dimond High School in Anchorage, nailed back-to-back 3-pointers late to end any realistic chance the Vikings had to rally.
Both women recognized the momentum hot shooting can create for a team.
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“It gets everybody fired up,” Williams said.
“When we get going, it’s hard to stop,” added Thompson, all but finishing her teammate’s sentence.
Williams, who is a transfer from Division I Arkansas-Little Rock, finished with a game-high 28 points and four steals. Thompson hit 5 of 6 3-pointers on her way to 17 points. Shelby Cloninger also reached double figures with 12 points.
The Seawolves await the NCAA’s announcement Sunday of the Division II West Region national tournament bracket. Two years ago, the now three-time GNAC champions were granted the right to host the regional, but a year ago were surprised to not get the call.
“Anchorage is a great stage,” said Seawolves coach Ryan McCarthy. “(Division one) teams coming in for the Great Alaska Shootout tell us it’s the best stage they play on all season. We just lost our minor league hockey team, so basketball is even bigger in the community.”
WWU (25-5) is ranked third in the West Region behind Anchorage (29-1) and California Baptist (29-2). The Vikings will almost certainly receive an NCAA bid as well.
Western Washington lost two hard-fought regular season games to the Seawolves, including an overtime game in Bellingham on Feb. 23. Western had its moments on Saturday, leading 39-37 early in the third quarter.
Two Vikings recorded major milestones in the loss. Senior guard Taylor Peacocke became the first GNAC women’s player to break 700 points in a single season as her team-high 22 carried her to 714. Fellow senior Kiana Gandy tallied 15 points to lift her past the career 1,000-point mark, putting the Mount Rainier grad at 1,005. Former Wilson standout Tia Briggs had 14 for WWU.
Falling behind 8-0 before a three-pointer by Peacocke gave them their first points 3 1/2 minutes into the game, the Vikings worked their way back to take the lead at 23-21 on a long three-pointer by Gandy from the right wing. A pick-and-roll layup by UAA’s Hannah Wandersee immediately tied the score, but a fast break bucket by Peacocke propelled Western into a lead it would hold until after halftime.
The teams traded the lead three times before Cloninger knocked down a three that put Anchorage ahead to stay at the midpoint of the third quarter. Western hung around until six minutes from the end, when Thompson knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in a span of 30 seconds to give the Seawolves their largest lead, 66-54.
Thompson’s final 3-pointer came from far out past the top of the key and prompted a loud roar from the Anchorage student section, which nearly filled the area usually packed with Saint Martin’s fans on its game nights. The Seawolves noticed.
“There’s always a lot of pressure on us,” McCarthy said. “We have fans who pay $500 for a hotel and food. They come here to see us play more than one game.”
Thompson also appreciated the support.
“It’s great to play for UAA,” she said. “We’ve got a ton of support. You saw it tonight.”
The men’s GNAC final between Western and Western Oregon was not completed by the time The Olympian went to print.