BELLINGHAM - Western Washington University women's basketball coach Carmen Dolfo has seen enough slow starts in the past week to last her for the rest of the season - perhaps even another 22 years at the helm.
"Oh boy," Dolfo said rolling her eyes. "That one was slow for a long, long time. It was an entire half and then some."
It took 25 minutes for the Vikings to get things rolling on Thursday, Jan. 17, in a showdown with Seattle Pacific, but when they did, there was no stopping them, as NCAA Division II eight-ranked Western came back to grab a 61-44 victory to stay perfect in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. Western used a 22-2 run midway through the second half to erase a seven-point deficit and cruise to the big win.
The Vikings (12-2, 6-0 GNAC) suffered a similar start on Saturday, Jan. 12, when they had to dig themselves out from a sluggish first half to ultimately beat then-seventh-ranked Simon Fraser on a buzzer-beating shot by Britt Harris.
But that performance looked downright sparkling compared to the first 41/2 minutes of Tuesday's game.
The only thing interrupting Western's string of turnovers on its first five possessions was a missed jumper from Katie Colard. In fact, on WWU's first eight trips down the court, the Vikings went 0-3 from the floor and turned the ball over the other five.
And before the Vikings knew it, they were in a 10-0 hole.
"The last few games have been pretty rough at the start," WWU senior Trishi Williams said. "We just haven't come out ready to go. We weren't ready to fight from the beginning."
It's something Williams and WWU know they need to fix - and in a hurry.
"We're going to change our warm-ups on Saturday," Williams said. "We're not getting excited to play, so we're going to have to change things up."
Though things got better when Corinn Waltrip hit a 3-pointer from the right corner off an assist from Colard, it took Western most of the rest of the half to crawl back within one of Seattle Pacific (10-5, 4-3), and even then, the Falcons were able to stretch the advantage back to five, 27-22, the end of the half.
The culprits for Western's slow start were many - everything from poor shooting (8 for 29 field-goal shooting in the half) to not boxing out on the boards (24-15 SPU rebounding edge in the half) to not taking care of the ball (11 first-half turnovers) and even a number of defensive lapses.
About the only thing working for the Vikings in the first half was Sydney Donaldson, who came off the bench to score 10 of her team-high 14 points to keep Western in it.
And things didn't magically get better in the second half, either, as the Falcons were able to stretch their advantage out to seven points when Katie Benson hit a pair of free throws after being fouled on an offensive rebound with 19:05 left to play.
But a 7-0 run by Western over its next seven possessions tied the game at 31 when Williams made one of two free throws, and the Vikings took their first lead of the game two possessions later, when Waltrip fed Harris for a fast-break layup off a Seattle Pacific miss.
After the two teams traded the lead a couple of times, WWU again found itself down 38-35 with 12:35 to play when Michelle Teng hit a lay-up. But on the Vikings' next possession, Williams hit a runner off an assist from Colard to ignite a 22-2 run by the Vikings over the next 8:46.
"We just started working harder," Williams said of the run. "We picked up our intensity on defense. When we play good defense, it leads to easy buckets at the other end and gives us the momentum we need. Our defense is the key to everything."
During the run, Western forced three turnovers and held the Falcons to 1-for-8 shooting from the field. Most importantly, they didn't allow a second-chance shot attempt.
Prior to run, the Falcons held a double-digit rebounding advantage in the game, but during the run, the Vikings won the rebounding battle 14-4.
"I think we started to do the little things that you need to do to be successful rebounding," said Williams, who led Western with eight boards. "Early on, we weren't fighting and scrapping and boxing out - those things you need to do to win rebounds. We started doing that, and it made a big difference."
By the time the run ended with 2:27 to play on a pair of Benson free throws, Western suddenly held a comfortable 57-42 lead.
The Vikings held the Falcons to 15.2-percent shooting (5 for 33) in the second half, including a number of misses from inside the paint.
Harris scored all of her team-high 13 points in the second half, while Waltrip also finished in double figures with 11. In addition to her eight rebounds, Williams had a nice all-around game with seven points, five steals and a game-high five assists.
Benson recorded a double-double for Seattle Pacific with 18 points and 13 rebounds, but Aubree Callen, with nine points, was the only other Falcon to score more than four.
Not only was Tuesday's win Western's sixth straight, but it was the second during a big homestand against the Vikings' top three competitors for the conference title. WWU hopes to complete the sweep and get a little cushion in the GNAC standings when it faces second-place Montana State-Billings at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19.
"It's tough to face these three teams in a row," Dolfo said. "Ideally, you'd like a little breathing room. But it's like this for everybody in our league. Seattle Pacific's got Simon Fraser and then Montana State. But really, nobody's easy in this league. I was thinking about it the other day, after this, we've got tough trips to Central and NNU. Nothing's easy."
But it's a whole lot easier when you don't have to worry about digging out of an early hole.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 61, SEATTLE PACIFIC 44
SEATTLE PACIFIC (10-5, 4-3 GNAC)
Benson, Katie 18; Callen, Aubree 9; Ohlsen, Suzanna 4; Butler, Riley 4; Lasconia, Brianne 3; Teng, Michelle 2; Stephens, Erin 2; Bowen, Brooke 1; Pflaumer, Maddey 1; Grager, Molly 0. Totals 14-61 14-16 44.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (12-2, 6-0 GNAC)
Donaldson, Sydney 14; Harris, Britt 13; Waltrip, Corinn 11; Williams, Trishi 7; Bernsen, Kayla 6; Hill, Sarah 4; Pounds, Marcel 4; Colard, Katie 2; Hathaway, Aleisha 0; White, Jenni 0; Benner, Brandi 0. Totals 25 60 8-13 61.
Half: SPU 27, WWU 22
3-point goals: Seattle Pacific 2-10 (Callen, Aubree 1; Lasconia, Brianne 1), Western Washington 3-17 (Waltrip, Corinn 3). Fouled out: Seattle Pacific-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds: Seattle Pacific 44 (Benson, Katie 13), Western Washington 38 (Williams, Trishi 8). Assists: Seattle Pacific 7 (Callen, Aubree 2; Teng, Michelle 2; Benson, Katie 2), Western Washington 21 (Williams, Trishi 5). Total fouls: Seattle Pacific 14, Western Washington 15. Technical fouls: Seattle Pacific-None, Western Washington-None. A-418
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.