BELLINGHAM - It would be easy to think after seeing the Western Washington University women's basketball team surpass 80 points for the second straight game and the third time in its past five outings that it had another strong offensive output on Thursday, Feb. 21, against Northwest Nazarene.
And though the eighth-ranked Vikings did have a relatively good game on the offensive end of the court, it was a smothering defensive effort that quite literally fed the offensive beast.
Spurred by its most consistent defensive performance of the season, Western rolled to an 81-51 Great Northwest Athletic Conference victory over the visiting Crusaders. The win was particularly satisfying for the NCAA Division II West Region's newly minted No. 1 team because it not only came over the seventh-ranked team in the region, it also moved WWU a step closer to locking up a second straight conference crown.
The 30-point margin of victory was a season high for the Vikings (20-3, 14-1), beating a 29-point advantage they had Jan. 31 against Alaska Fairbanks, and the fact that they held NNU, a team that entered the night shooting 44.6 percent from the field, to nearly half that - 23.1 percent (15 for 65) - was the chief reason why.
"We've been working really hard on defense in practice recently," said Kayla Bernsen, who recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds to join Corrinn Waltrip (19 points) and Britt Harris (17 points) in double figures. "We talked so much about being aggressive and communicating on defense, and it was so good to see it come together."
Nobody was happier to see the Vikings' defensive effort materialize the way it did than coach Carmen Dolfo, who has seen flashes of what her team can do defensively throughout the season.
"Tonight was the first night where we played really strong on defense consistently throughout," Dolfo said. "It may have taken us a few minutes to really get into it, but once we did, there were none of those ups and downs we've been having. It was so great to see."
Great for everybody, except those unfortunate souls wearing Northwest Nazarene black and white, who seemed to have a difficult time getting a breath of fresh air without a Western defender in their face, let alone a clean look at the basket.
Western frustrated the Crusaders throughout, holding their two leading scorers - Megan Hingston and Chelsie Luke, who entered averaging a combined 34 points per game to only 15 total points.
And it wasn't just one or two Western players that had a big game defensively - it was everyone.
In fact, as suffocating as Western's defense was and the way it was flying around, it sometimes seemed like the Vikings must have had at least seven or eight players on the court at the same time.
"Everybody played a role and played real aggressive tonight," Dolfo said. "Everybody communicated really well, and made changes on the fly."
It didn't take long to see that Thursday way going to be a special night defensively for Western.
After trading the lead the first couple minutes of the game, the Vikings surged ahead with an 11-0 run that started with a fade-away jumper from Trishi Williams with 16:15 to play in the first half on a shot that gave Western a 7-6 lead it would never relinquish.
That was Williams' only field goal of the night, which usually would have spelled trouble for WWU, but not on Thursday - not with the defense playing this way.
Over the next 4:46, Northwest Nazarene went 0 for 10 from the floor and turned the ball over four times.
When Heather Adams hit a running jumper to end the streak, it only ignited another 6-0 Western run to put the Vikings up 22-8 with just over 10 minutes left before halftime.
By the time the half did arrive, Western had stretched the lead to 38-21 and held the Crusaders to 25-percent shooting (8 for 32) and forced 13 turnovers, including nine by steal.
And it only got worse in the second half, as WWU's defense held NNU to seven made field goals in 33 attempts (21.2 percent).
And the better Western's defense played, the better the Vikings seemed to be on offense.
"The way we were playing defense really allowed us to get out and run," Bernsen said. "It just gets you excited."
By midway through the second half, Western's starters were sitting on the bench, whooping and hollering for every defensive stop the reserves made just as loud as they cheered every bucket at the other end.
"They (the bench) really came in and played well tonight," Dolfo said. "They kept the intensity high. We didn't suffer a letdown defensively at any time."
In fact, led by Bernsen, the bench scored 33 points for Western, as Aleisha Hathaway and Sydney Donaldson each scored eight.
About the only area Dolfo was concerned about on Thursday was Western's inability to box out on the defensive end, as it allowed 17 offensive rebounds. But the Vikings still won the battle of the boards 45-34, as Williams had eight and all 11 Vikings to step on the court had at least one.
Western next hosts rival Central Washington in its regular-season home finale at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, and will honor its four seniors - Waltrip, Williams, Harris and Erika Ramstead- before the game.
"The key is going to be Saturday to see if we can maintain this," Dolfo said. "We've had a lot of ups and downs this season, and this was our first real consistent game. Now the key is to maintain that consistency."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 81, NORTHWEST NAZARENE 51
NORTHWEST NAZARENE (18-5, 10-5 GNAC)
Adams,Heather 14; Hingston,Megan 11; Warwick,Leslie 5; Schierman,Kylee 5; Luke,Chelsie 4; White,Cierra 3; Simmons,Taylor 3; Ferrenburg,Ellen 2; Schumann,Kayla 2; Skokankova,Veronika 2; Swanson,Katie 0. Totals 15-65 16-20 51.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (20-3, 14-1 GNAC)
Waltrip,Corinn 19; Harris,Britt 17; Bernsen,Kayla 13; Hathaway,Aleisha 8; Donaldson,Sydney 8; Hill,Sarah 6; White,Jenni 4; Williams,Trishi 3; Colard,Katie 3; Pounds,Marcel 0; Benner,Brandi 0. Totals 31-61 15-21 81.
Half: WWU 38, NNU 21
3-point goals--Northwest Nazarene 5-14 (Adams,Heather 3), Western Washington 4-13 (Hathaway,Aleisha 1; White,Jenni 1; Waltrip,Corinn 1; Colard,Katie 1). Fouled out--Northwest Nazarene-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds-Northwest Nazarene 34 (Hingston,Megan 9), Western Washington 45 (Bernsen,Kayla 10). Assists--Northwest Nazarene 10 (Adams,Heather 4), Western Washington 24 (Hathaway,Aleisha 4; Hill,Sarah 4; Waltrip,Corinn 4). Total fouls-Northwest Nazarene 19, Western Washington 17. Technical fouls-Northwest Nazarene-None, Western Washington-None. A-385
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.