BELLINGHAM - The Great Northwest Athletic Conference schedule maker certainly made things difficult on the Western Washington University women's basketball team the past eight days.
But then again, the Vikings haven't been making things very easy on themselves, either.
Though Western didn't get off to the sluggish first-half start that caused them trouble during the first two outings in a three-game homestand Saturday, July 19, against Montana State Billings, the Vikings still suffered through numerous peaks and valleys.
The good news was they still played well enough to get the same result they did in the first two games. Corinn Waltrip scored a game-high 24 points and Sydney Donaldson had a nice game off the bench with eight points and 13 rebounds to help WWU hold on for a 78-76 victory over the scrappy Yellowjackets.
The win capped off a home-stand sweep for Western (13-2, 7-0 GNAC), as the Vikings beat all three of their closest GNAC pursuers in eight days.
"I think it shows that we're a team that when we're on top of our game can play with anyone," Waltrip said. "What we still have to work on is our consistency. We need to play an entire game like we're capable of."
After slouching out of the gates against Simon Fraser and Seattle Pacific, when they went a combined 17 for 52 (32.7 percent) from the floor in the first half, the Vikings certainly looked ready to go on Saturday.
WWU connected on 18 of its of its 35 first-half shot attempts Saturday - a sparkling 51.4 percent. The result was 44 first-half points - just one fewer than their combined total against Simon Fraser and Seattle Pacific.
And WWU only turned the ball over five times in the half.
"We did a good job coming out ready to play tonight, and that was good to see," Western coach Carmen Dolfo said. "But we weren't getting the consistency we were looking for. ... It's frustrating because it's something we've really focused on. We knew consistency was going to be a problem for this team after last year. We're not just talking consistency from game to game - we're talking consistency over five minutes."
And by the end of Saturday's game, Dolfo and the rest of the Western bench must have felt like it was in a life raft in the middle of the ocean.
Every time they would surge ahead, the Yellowjackets would come back.
Now, some of the credit for that has to go to MSUB (11-5, 5-3), which entered the game with the conference's second-lead leading scorer in Bobbi Knudsen (18.2 points and a conference-high 6.7 assists per game).
"I thought Corinn eventually did a very good job containing her when we put her on her," Dolfo said. "She's really tough to stop. She can hit the e, she can drive, she can pull up and she's really good at passing. The minute you start to help, she'll kick it to somebody else, and they have some other very good players."
Western did a good job of keeping her from dishing, holding her to two assists, but she still scored 21 points to go with 20 from Kayleen Goggins.
"The thing I think happened is we let things bother us that we shouldn't have," Dolfo said. "We would lose focus when we didn't get a call or we missed a switch on defense of something, and we'd let that bother us, and they next thing you know, they're right back in it."
That trend started early, as MSUB erased a quick 8-0 Western lead out of the gate and stayed within seven points of the Vikings the rest of the first half.
Western went to the locker room up 44-41, but seemed to finally build a little breathing room with an 11-1 run that started when Waltrip fed Brit Harris for a short jumper with 14:21 to play. Waltrip followed with one of her six 3-pointers, before Trishi Williams hit back-to-back lay-ups and Sarah Hill capped off the run with a bucket off one of Jenni White's game-high seven assists to make it 64-53.
But the Western offense went silent the next four minutes, allowing the Yellowjackets to inch back in with a 10-0 run to make it 64-63 with 7:40 to play.
Another quick WWU burst stretched the lead to 74-65, but MSUB again scored seven straight to draw within two points, 74-72 with 1:41 to play.
"They're a very good team that is capable of scoring, but I think we also lost our focus," Waltrip said. "We just didn't play consistent basketball tonight."
But Waltrip was consistent from the free throw line when it mattered most, hitting four straight to give the Vikings a 78-72 lead in the final minute.
Williams (11 points) and Hill (10) joined Waltrip in double figures, while Williams had five assists and Waltrip four. Hill also had seven rebounds.
"I saw some really good things tonight," Dolfo said. "I thought Jenni came in and made some beautiful passes. Syd had another big game for us. Corinn shot with a lot of confidence tonight. We played very well at times, but we just didn't do it consistently. That's something we're going to need to do when we go on the road."
That time comes now, as Western will close out the first half of the GNAC season with trips to Central Washington on Thursday, Jan. 24, and Northwest Nazarene on Saturday, Jan. 26. In fact, seven of the Vikings' final 11 regular-season games will be away from Sam Carver Gymnasium.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 78, MONTANA ST. BILLINGS 76
MONTANA ST. BILLINGS (11-5, 5-3 GNAC)
Knudsen, Bobbi 8-20 3-4 21; Goggins, Kayleen 7-12 4-5 20; Olson, Janiel 5-7 3-4 13; Tolman, Brooke 4-9 0-1 10; Grimsrud, Monica 4-7 0-0 9; DePuydt, Annie 0-2 2-2 2; Peoples, Quinn 0-5 1-2 1; Hanser, Austin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-62 13-18 76.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (13-2, 7-0 GNAC)
Waltrip, Corinn 7-14 4-5 24; Williams, Trishi 5-10 1-4 11; Hill, Sarah 5-7 0-1 10; Harris, Britt 4-6 0-0 8; Donaldson, Sydney 4-7 0-0 8; Colard, Katie 2-7 0-0 6; White, Jenni 1-3 2-2 5; Bernsen, Kayla 2-6 0-0 4; Pounds, Marcel 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 31-64 7-12 78.
Half: WWU 44, MSUB 41
3-point goals--Montana St. Billings 7-18 (Goggins,Kayleen 2-2; Tolman,Brooke 2-4; Knudsen,Bobbi 2-6; Grimsrud,Monica 1-3; Peoples,Quinn 0-2; Olson,Janiel 0-1), Western Washington 9-24 (Waltrip,Corinn 6-11; Colard,Katie 2-7; White,Jenni 1-3; Pounds,Marcel 0-3). Fouled out--Montana St. Billings-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds--Montana St. Billings 35 (Olson,Janiel 12), Western Washington 40 (Donaldson,Sydney 13). Assists--Montana St. Billings 9 (Goggins,Kayleen 2; Knudsen,Bobbi 2), Western Washington 25 (White,Jenni 7). Total fouls--Montana St. Billings 17, Western Washington 16. Technical fouls--Montana St. Billings-None, Western Washington-None. A-308