BELLINGHAM -- Though Western Washington women's basketball team was hosting the NCAA Division II West Regional for only the second time in the program's history, it marked the 14th time in the past 15 years that Vikings had qualified for the postseason tournament.
Academy of Art, on the other hand, advanced to the regional for the first time in its first year of eligibility.
But for most of the first 20 minutes Saturday, March 16, you would have been hard pressed to tell which team were the seasoned veterans and which were the rookies.
"I think we just tried to be calm, but I think came out with some jitters," WWU coach Carmen Dolfo said. "We weren't playing together. We know why we are here because we played together through the season, and we just weren't doing that in the first half. ... I think we all got on our own pages, and we don't work very well that way."
Once the Vikings did get on the same page in the second half, it was a sight to see.
Western opened the second half on a 12-0 run to erase a three-point halftime deficit then used a 13-0 run midway through the half to pull away to a 70-50 first-round victory.
By the time all the dust had settled, all five Western starters had scored in double figures, led by double-doubles from Britt Harris (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Trishi Williams (11 points, 11 rebounds).
"I think that (five starters in double figures) makes our scouting report a whole lot harder," said Sarah Hill, who recorded all 10 of her points in the second half and finished with seven rebounds. "And it's not just us five. It's definitely our bench that makes us a different team. It just proves that even if somebody is having an off night, somebody else will step up and have your back."
That challenge of finding a way to stop the Vikings next falls on Cal State Monterey, which beat Chico State 66-54 earlier Saturday, in a 5 p.m. regional semifinal on Monday, March 18, at Sam Carver Gymnasium.
The game will precede the WWU men's 7:30 p.m. regional semifinal against Cal State Bakersfield.
The other women's semifinal will feature Grand Canyon University against Simon Fraser at noon on Monday.
Though the Vikings (26-3) came out hot the first five minutes on Saturday, the rest of their first half was anything but artistic. They struggled to find any rhythm against the scrappy Urban Nights (23-9), who did an outstanding job of changing up defenses almost possession to possession to keep the Vikings off balance and unable to find the shots they were seeking.
"I think we're really talking to each other, or we weren't really listening to each other," Dolfo said. "I think Corinn (Waltrip) was trying to make some changes and trying to make some calls on what they were doing, and I'm not sure we were hearing it or echoing it or really being a part of it."
The result was a 10-for-28 shooting performance (35.7 percent) from the floor for Western, including a 2-for-11 showing from 3-point range.
Shooting wasn't the Vikings' only problem, though, as they turned the ball over 13 times in the first 20 minutes, leading to 14 points for Academy of Art.
The Urban Knights, weren't particularly effective shooting the ball early, either, hitting 10 of 35 (28.6 percent), but they did manage to corral nine offensive boards to score 10 second-chance points.
The result was Western faced a 27-24 deficit at halftime.
"We definitely didn't play our game in the first half," Harris said. "That wasn't how we expected to play."
But as out of sync as the Vikings looked in the first half, they came out in the second half in seemingly perfect harmony.
It started on their opening possession, when Waltrip found Katie Colard for an open 3-pointer to tie the game at 27.
A defensive stop at the other end led to a fast-break layup by Harris off an assist from Williams. Next possession saw Waltrip start the fast break with a rebound and a long pass to Williams.
"I felt we came out and boxed out, and that's what led us on that 12-0 run," Hill said. "We focused on boxing out each time. That was one of our goals was boxing out, and another one was using our bigs. I felt in the second half we worked together and got the ball inside."
And with them doing that, that opened up the outside, as Hill was able to hit a 3 with 17:16 to play, before Colard fed Waltrip for a layup and a 36-27 Vikings lead only 3:22 into the half.
"I think in the playoffs you can't ever get comfortable or complacent," Waltrip said. "You always have to keep working hard and play like the score is tied or you're down. ... Carm's reminded us, this week especially, last time Western hosted, they got comfortable. They were up by 20, and they ended up losing to Seattle Pacific in the semifinals. We know that we can't get comfortable."
Almost on cue, Academy of Art proved that point, whittling the Vikings' lead down to one with an 11-3 run of their own.
Western held off the charge, and Hill eventually scored on back-to-back possessions, including a 3-point play, to ignite a 13-0 Western run over a 2-minute, 43-second span midway through the half, allowing the Vikings to build a more "comfortable" 57-41 advantage with 9:20 to play.
Colard finished with 12 points, as she went 4 for 7 from 3-point range, while Waltrip tallied 14. Williams led the team with six assists and three steals, while Harris had three blocked shots.
With Saturday's win behind them, the Vikings now turn their attention toward advancing past the regional semifinals for the first time since 2000, when they advanced to the national semifinals.
But they know that task won't be easy against the Otters, and they can't afford another first half like they suffered through Saturday.
"We got to see them play Chico State," Dolfo said. "They're a really balanced team. They've got posts. They've got shooters. They've got drivers. We played them the first round down at San Diego last year (in the West Region, a game WWU won 65-58). They're new a different team from that. I think they've got a lot of balance. They're fighters and well coached. We're going to have turn around right now and get ready for Monterrey Bay. We've got a lot of work to do to get ourselves ready, but we're excited to play them."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 70, ACADEMY OF ART 50
ACADEMY OF ART (23-9)
Rogers, Jordan 4-14 1-1 11; Camera, Regina 3-9 2-2 10; Dale, Ariel 4-13 1-4 9; Storey, Sha'Nice 2-5 1-2 7; Guinn, Jasmin 2-7 1-2 5; Griggs, Alisa 1-1 1-3 3; Wade, Katy 1-6 1-3 3; Sheng, Zoie 1-5 0-0 2; Fraser, Juliua 0-0 0-0 0; Biesek, Nicol 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-62 8-17 50.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (26-3)
Harris,Britt 6-12 3-5 15; Waltrip,Corinn 5-12 1-5 14; Colard,Katie 4-8 0-0 12; Williams,Trishi 5-8 1-2 11; Hill,Sarah 4-7 1-3 10; Donaldson,Sydney 3-7 2-2 8; Hathaway,Aleisha 0-0 0-0 0; Bernsen,Kayla 0-2 0-0 0; Pounds,Marcel 0-0 0-0 0; White,Jenni 0-2 0-0 0; Benner,Brandi 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-58 8-17 70.
HALF: Academy of Art 27, WWU 24
3-point goals--Academy of Art 6-14 (Storey, Sha'Nice 2-5; Camera, Regina 2-2; Rogers, Jordan 2-7), Western Washington 8-19 (Colard,Katie 4-7; Waltrip,Corinn 3-8; Hill,Sarah 1-2; White,Jenni 0-1; Williams,Trishi 0-1). Fouled out--Academy of Art-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds-Academy of Art 34 (Wade, Katy 9), Western Washington 48 (Williams,Trishi 11). Assists--Academy of Art 7 (Guinn, Jasmin 2; Sheng, Zoie 2), Western Washington 21 (Williams,Trishi 6). Total fouls--Academy of Art 18, Western Washington 16. Technical fouls--Academy of Art-None, Western Washington-None. A-712 NCAA Division II Women's Basketball West Region Quarterfinal #1 Western Washington vs. #8 Academy of Art
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.