BELLINGHAM - On a night when defensive stops came at a premium, the Western Washington University men's basketball team made the necessary ones in the final minutes to preserve the dream of defending its 2012 national title.
Off-balance shot after acrobatic layup, Western and Chaminade exchanged offensive blows for nearly 40 minutes until WWU finally separated from Chaminade in the final four minutes.
Five Vikings scored in double figures, and Western put on an offensive showcase to earn a 102-87 win during first-round play of the NCAA Division II Tournament West Regional Friday, March 15, in front of 2,385 at Carver Gym.
No. 1-seeded WWU and No. 8-seeded Chaminade entered the tournament as two of the higher scoring teams in the nation. Western shot 58.2 percent from the field, 68.4 percent in the second half, and proved it has no problem playing an up-and-down game.
"I think we have the players to kind of play either way," said senior guard John Allen when asked whether he preferred a fast-paced game or a slower tempo. "Getting into an up-and-down game with the way we shoot the ball, there's nothing we wouldn't shy away from."
Being bashful with the basketball was the last thing on Allen's mind. The Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year poured in a team-high 29 points, recorded eight of Western's 19 assists and hauled in six boards.
"John was phenomenal," WWU coach Tony Dominguez said. "Twenty nine points, eight assists, six rebounds for your points guard. ... What else can you ask for?"
Given Chris Mitchell's 19 points, Paul Jones' 16, Austin Bragg's 14, Cameron Severson's 12 and twice as many assists than turnovers, it was hard for Dominguez to ask for anything more on the offensive end.
He wouldn't have minded a stronger defense performance, though.
Chaminade shot 49.2 percent from the field, and Bennie Murray, one of the Silverswords' many ultra-quick, athletic guards, scored a game-high 32 points. Time after time, Murray converted clutch buckets to keep the Vikings from extending their lead to double digits.
"They play a very frantic pace, and it just got us off balance," Dominguez said, "but I think we recovered well and finished strong."
Thanks to Mitchell's 10 early points and a string of seven straight from Richard Woodworth, Western built a 25-18 lead with 8:26 into the first half. Chaminade responded using a 17-7 run to take its largest lead of the game with 7:15 to go until the break.
Western held a four- to six-point lead the entire second half until Austin Bragg threw down a huge dunk off a missed 3-point shot from Allen to put the Vikings in front 87-78 with 6:05 to play.
Chaminade cut the lead to six, but a key layup by Severson followed by another Bragg dunk gave the Vikings a 93-83 lead with 3:07 to go.
Western, which went 30 for 35 from the free-throw line, made its freebies down the stretch and escaped upset-minded Chaminade.
"It's the NCAA Tournament," Dominguez said. "I believe the West Region is one of the best, if not the best, region in the tournament. I think the last 12 minutes we did a really good job of executing our offense. Every team wants to get us because of last year's prize, and to be to the point we are in this moment, it's very exciting for us."
The win awards WWU with a matchup against No. 5 seed Cal State San Bernardino in the West Regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 18, at Carver Gym.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 102, CHAMINADE 87
Murray, Bennie 10-19 10-11 32; Bailey, Lee 6-10 1-1 15; Cooks, Dominique 4-8 1-1 10; Coulibaly, Waly 3-5 0-0 8; Haskins, De'Andre 4-12 0-3 8; Hu, Kevin 2-4 0-0 5; Green, Mike 1-1 2-2 5; Harrison, Tyree 1-4 2-4 4. Totals 31-63 16-22 87.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (28-2)
Allen,John 8-15 10-10 29; Mitchell,Chris 6-9 3-4 19; Jones,Paul 5-8 6-6 16; Bragg,Austin 5-6 4-7 14; Severson,Cameron 4-5 4-4 12; Woodworth,Richard 2-4 3-4 8; Turner,Anye 2-5 0-0 4; Wilkins,Rico 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 32-55 30-35 102.
Half: WWU 52, Chaminade 48
3-point goals--Chaminade 9-16 (Coulibaly, Waly 2-3; Murray, Bennie 2-6; Bailey, Lee 2-2; Cooks, Dominique 1-1; Hu, Kevin 1-1; Green, Mike 1-1; Haskins, De'Andre 0-2), Western Washington 8-17 (Mitchell,Chris 4-5; Allen,John 3-6; Woodworth,Richard 1-2; Wilkins,Rico 0-2; Jones,Paul 0-2). Fouled out--Chaminade-Haskins, De'Andre, Western Washington-Woodworth,Richard. Rebounds--Chaminade 23 (Haskins, De'Andre 6), Western Washington 35 (Bragg,Austin 10). Assists--Chaminade 9 (Murray, Bennie 3; Haskins, De'Andre 3), Western Washington 18 (Allen,John 8). Total fouls--Chaminade 22, Western Washington 19. Technical fouls--Chaminade-None, Western Washington-None. A-2385
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.