BELLINGHAM - Exactly 329 days have passed since the Western Washington University men's basketball team has lost a game.
The No. 2-ranked Vikings have compiled a school record-tying 23 wins during the span dating back to last season, matching a mark that's stood since 1972.
Coach Tony Dominguez and his Vikings don't dwell too much on records, but guard John Allen knows the Vikings accomplished something special during their 24th consecutive victory, a 79-66 GNAC win against University of Alaska Fairbanks Saturday, Jan. 26, at Carver Gym in front of a crowd of 1,725 in attendance.
"It's kind of cool that you know you will be remembered for at least a while," Allen said. "It's cool for the community. It's cool for everyone that comes out and supports us night in and night out. They pay to watch us play. They are a part of this with us, so it's kind of cool to be able to give back to the people who come and watch us."
Though Dominguez acknowledged Western has higher season goals than setting a new win streak, he said the consecutive wins is a testament to the mental fortitude the team's shown during the past two years, especially Western's 2012-13 group.
"These guys deserve it," Dominguez said. "They've earned it. They really want to be good. They do everything they can do to be the best. We've had a lot of great teams, but I don't know if we've had one as mentally tough as this group of guys."
Fittingly, it was Western's poise and mental toughness while playing with a small lead down the stretch that helped the Vikings earn win No. 24. Alaska Fairbanks, which rests third in the GNAC standings, gave the undefeated Vikings (18-0, 9-0 GNAC) all they could handle.
WWU's Paul Jones matched Allen for a team-high 18 points. Austin Bragg added 15 points, including a huge first-half, poster-worthy dunk over UAF's Stefan Tica, and Richard Woodworth scored eight of his 12 points in the second half. The Vikings out rebounded the Nanooks 36-23 and 19-7 in the final 20 minutes.
Former Squalicum High School standout Pat Voeut scored a team-high 17 points in what was a bitter sweet homecoming. The Storm alum transferred to Alaska Fairbanks from Whatcom Community College during the off season.
"It's always nice playing against the hometown guys," Allen said. "They bring a lot of energy and play a little harder, so it's always fun. Pat is a talented player, but he came across a talented team tonight."
After trailing briefly during the first 2 1/2 minutes of the game, Western maintained a single-digit lead the rest of the half. A 3-point play from Anye Turner with 11:14 left in the first gave the Vikings a 21-12 advantage. It was Western's largest lead of the opening half.
WWU led 40-33 at the break and extended its lead to 15 points five minutes into the third quarter after Jones drilled a mid-range jumper.
But Alaska Fairbanks, led by Voeut, crept back into the game and cut the Vikings' lead to 59-54 with 8:08 to go. A Fairbanks bucket by Dallen Bills brought the score to 62-56 with 5:41 left, but Western made key stops down the stretch and executed on the offensive end to seal the win.
"We've had a couple games like that this year with the Central game going down to the wire and a couple other ones that have been close at the end," said Bragg about being able to win in the final five minutes. "That helps us to have that experience, and we just came together as a team. Everybody took shots and found the open guy."
The win marked the 14th time Western has won by more than 10 points this season.
Jones recorded a double-double, hauling in a game-high 11 rebounds to go with his 18 points. Bragg grabbed nine boards, and Allen handed out a team-high four assists.
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 79, ALASKA FAIRBANKS 66
ALASKA FAIRBANKS (10-7, 5-4 GNAC)
Voeut,Pat 17; Brinson,Dominique 13; Tica,Stefan 11; Bills,Dallen 10; Pucar,Sergej 7; Ngawaka,Zach 4; Baker,Ronnie 4; Kelly,Andrew 0. Totals 24-57 12-14 66.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (18-0, 9-0 GNAC)
Allen,John 18; Jones,Paul 18; Bragg,Austin 15; Woodworth,Richard 12; Wilkins,Rico 6; Mitchell,Chris 5; Turner,Anye 3; Severson,Cameron 2. Totals 33-59 9-12 79.
Half: WWU 40, AF 33
3-point goals--Alaska Fairbanks 6-22 (Brinson,Dominique 3), Western Washington 4-12 (Allen,John 2; Bragg,Austin 2). Fouled out--Alaska Fairbanks-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds-Alaska Fairbanks 23 (Ngawaka,Zach 4; Voeut,Pat 4), Western Washington 36 (Jones,Paul 11). Assists--Alaska Fairbanks 12 (Ngawaka,Zach 3; Baker,Ronnie 3), Western Washington 12 (Allen,John 4). Total fouls--Alaska Fairbanks 11, Western Washington 14. Technical fouls--Alaska Fairbanks-None, Western Washington-None. A-1725
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.