BELLINGHAM Western Washington University knows how to erase the sting of defeat.
Just 10 days ago, Western watched Seattle Pacific celebrate a Great Northwest Conference title with a dramatic buzzer-beating win over the Vikings. WWU exacted revenge by winning the NCAA Division II Tournament West Regional, and for the second year in a row, it came at SPUs expense.
Lock-down defensive guard Rico Wilkins has made a career of flustering opponents. He did it once more during the biggest point of WWUs biggest game of the season.
Leading by two with 15.5 seconds left, Wilkins stripped SPU guard Riley Stockton as he drove towards Westerns basket. Richard Woodworth, the West Regional Tournament Most Outstanding Player, gathered the ball, was fouled and iced the game with two clutch free throws to give Western a 62-58 West Regional title win Tuesday, March 19, in front of 2,521 at Carver Gym.
Weve got so many guys that dont ever play that could be playing, Dominguez said. Rico Wilkins is a starter whos averaged 20 his entire life. Hes a kid who numerous times scored 40 in a half in a college game. Weve asked him to come in here and be a reserve and play defense. That is incredibly difficult. Those guys go unnoticed sometimes. You notice his defense, but those guys, just how mature they are to handle that, is the reason you win games.
Woodworths free throws were sweet redemption after he missed a key free throw during Westerns loss in the GNAC title game.
Its a great feeling to come out here and get this win in front of our fans who have been so supportive all year, Woodworth said.
The junior guard scored a game-high 15 points, Cameron Severson added 14 and Anye Turner scored 10 points. Turner scored nine points in a row during a key span late in the second half. John Allen, who scored just six points, was a West Regional all-tournament selection.
Our bench came in and did an incredible job, WWU coach Tony Dominguez said. Obviously, Richard played outstanding. He is our do-everything guy. He is our version of LeBron. Honestly, it was just a group effort, us coming together. We talk about being a family. We sell that. We talk about not getting rattled, and I think that is what happened.
The win sends Western to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, where the Vikings will face Florida Southern next at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, March 28, in Louisville, KY.
Western and Seattle Pacific have met three times this year before Tuesdays West Regional final. WWU won both regular season games.
Last year the Vikings beat Seattle Pacific 56-50 in the West Regional final at Carver Gym.
Woodworth provided the Vikings offense a lift a night after carrying WWU during the first 20 minutes of its regional semifinal win against Cal State San Bernardino. Western needed him Tuesday, too, given the Vikings top two scorers, Allen and Paul Jones, combined for 12 points. Woodworth scored 13 of his 15 points in the first 20 minutes and was 3 for 3 beyond the arch in the first half.
I try to pick spots and find different things throughout the game where I can help the team out, Woodworth said. Some of the other guys were scoring. Cam stepped up big. Anye had a couple huge buckets at the end of the game, so they kind of picked up the scoring load, and I just tried to keep us going, keep us rolling and play defense.
Turner was averaging 3.9 points per game before Tuesdays matchup. He came off the bench with 6:29 left and didnt leave until the game ended. His play during the six and a half minutes was arguably the difference of the outcome.
Turner accounted for points 49 through 58 and capped his scoring spree with an emphatic dunk. The first-year transfer also recorded a key block and steal during his game-ending stretch.
Anye was tremendous, Dominguez said. Anye has stepped into a team that had great success, and he is a starter that has had to play a reserve role. For him to always be ready to come in and provide a spark with his intensity on defense Theres so many things you can point to, but Anye Turner was a huge part of this win.
Besides a 5-3 lead two minutes in, the Vikings never led during the first half. WWU committed nine-first half turnovers, finished with 15, and had trouble running its offense against Seattle Pacific, which has great familiarity with Westerns offensive. Dominguez said the magnitude of the game may have contributed to Westerns early struggles.
Trailing 24-19 with 5:49 left until halftime, Western closed the first 20 minutes with a 9-5 run.
Woodworth converted his third 3-pointer of the half from the left side of the court to trim SPUs lead to 27-24. He followed the triple with a fade away 16-foot jumper.
A Severson tip in off a Wilkins missed layup cut SPUs lead to 29-28 heading into the break.
Western and Seattle Pacific went back-and-forth the first 10 minutes of the second half with neither team leading by more than four points. Chris Mitchell gave the Vikings strong minutes, scoring all of his seven points during opening moments.
Severson gave the Vikings their first lead of the second half with 9:50 to play after he made another athletic tip in, this time off a Jones miss, to put WWU in front 46-45.
After SPU took another slight lead, Wilkins knocked down a clutch 3-pointer from the left wing off a fast break run out to tie the game at 49 with 6:40 to go. Seattle Pacific helped out Western several times with its free-throw shooting. The Falcons were 7 of 16 from the line with 3:07 left in the second half and finished 8 of 19 from the stripe.
After SPUs Patrick Simon made a 3-pointer from the left side to put the Falcons in front 57-56 with 2:55 left, Turner scored his ninth-straight point with a powerful two-handed slam to push Western in front 58-57 with 2:29 left.
That was picture perfect to get a win like that and to do it like we did, Turner said. Its definitely something Ill think about for a long time. Severson converting a mid-range jumper during Westerns next possession with 1:45 left to push WWUs lead to 60-57.
SPUs Jobi Wall made one of two free throws to cut Westerns lead to 60-58 with just under 50 seconds left. The Vikings turned the ball over on their next possession to set up a game-tying or game-winning scenario for SPU, but Wilkins made the difference-making steal on Stockton following a Seattle Pacific timeout. Woodworth was fouled with 7.7 seconds left and made both free throws put WWU up 62-58 and seal the game.
For me its pretty sweet, said Dominguez of advancing to the Elite Eight. I dont know if its sweeter (than last year). Anytime you win is pretty great, and every group of guys is a family. Its all part of the Western basketball family that weve created, but it is pretty darn special because of the pressure they were under. Its been a great year.
The win was the last home game for Westerns six seniors Allen, Jones, Mitchell, Wilkins, Severson and Damien Fisher. The Vikings put together a 17-0 season at Caver and are 27-0 dating back to last year.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 62, SEATTLE PACIFIC 58
SEATTLE PACIFIC (27-4)
Simon,Patrick 5-10 2-2 14; Wall,Jobi 4-11 2-4 11; Poling,Andy 4-7 2-9 10; Hutsen,Cory 4-11 2-4 10; Stockton,Riley 3-6 0-0 7; Downs,David 2-8 0-0 6; Morse,Scott 0-1 0-0 0; Todd,Ryan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-54 8-19 58.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (30-2)
Woodworth,Richard 5-8 2-2 15; Severson,Cameron 7-10 0-0 14; Turner,Anye 3-5 4-6 10; Mitchell,Chris 3-6 0-1 7; Jones,Paul 3-5 0-0 6; Allen,John 3-7 0-0 6; Wilkins,Rico 1-4 0-0 3; Bragg,Austin 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 25-46 7-11 62.
Half: SPU 29, WWU 28
3-point goals--Seattle Pacific 6-17 (Downs,David 2-5; Simon,Patrick 2-5; Wall,Jobi 1-4; Stockton,Riley 1-2; Morse,Scott 0-1), Western Washington 5-12 (Woodworth,Richard 3-5; Wilkins,Rico 1-1; Mitchell,Chris 1-3; Allen,John 0-3). Fouled out--Seattle Pacific-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds--Seattle Pacific 32 (Stockton,Riley 8), Western Washington 26 (Mitchell,Chris 8). Assists--Seattle Pacific 14 (Simon,Patrick 5; Stockton,Riley 5), Western Washington 15 (Severson,Cameron 4). Total fouls--Seattle Pacific 14, Western Washington 17. Technical fouls-Seattle Pacific-None, Western Washington-None. A-2521
WEST REGION CHAMPIONS
Since 1998-99 season, when Western joined NCAA Division II
1999: Cal State San Bernardino
2000: Seattle Pacific
2001: Western Washington
2002: Cal State San Bernardino
2003: Cal Poly Pomona
2004: Humboldt State
2005: Cal Poly Pomona
2006: Seattle Pacific
2007: Cal State San Bernardino
2008: Alaska Anchorage
2009: Cal Poly Pomona
2010: Cal Poly Pomona
2012: Western Washington
2013: Western Washington
WWU IN WEST REGIONAL
2001: Won regional title
2005: Advanced to semifinals
2006: Advanced to final
2009: Lost in first round
2010: Advanced to semifinals
2013: Won regional title
At Louisville, Ky.
Franklin Pierce vs. Metro State, 9 a.m.
Florida Southern vs. Western Washington, 11:30 a.m.
Winona State vs. West Liberty, 2:30 p.m.
Drury vs. South Carolina Aiken, 5 p.m.
*All times Pacific Daylight
Nov. 9 Multnomah W 100-44
Nov. 12 at BYU-Hawaii W 84-78
Nov. 14 at Chaminade W 93-83
Nov. 23 Concordia-St. Paul W 80-76
Nov. 24 Southwest Baptist W 88-68
Dec. 1 at Simon Fraser* W 93-76
Dec. 8 Quest, B.C. W 117-52
Dec. 18 Drury W 72-69
Dec. 19 Central Oklahoma W 103-74
Dec. 30 Thompson Rivers, B.C. W 98-62
Jan. 3 at Seattle Pacific* W 66-56
Jan. 5 at Montana State-Billings* W 95-80
Jan. 10 Central Washington* W 86-86
Jan. 12 Northwest Nazarene* W 61-49
Jan. 17 at Western Oregon* W 91-81
Jan. 19 at Saint Martin's W 104-56
Jan. 24 Alaska Anchorage* W 75-62
Jan. 26 Alaska Fairbanks* W 79-66
Jan. 31 Montana State-Billings* W 86-69
Feb. 2 Seattle Pacific* W 83-76
Feb. 7 at Northwest Nazarene* W 70-59
Feb. 9 at Central Washington* W 92-82
Feb. 14 Saint Martin's* W 76-60
Feb. 16 Western Oregon* W 105-78
Feb. 21 at Alaska Fairbanks* L 77-73
Feb. 23 at Alaska Anchorage* W 63-57
March 2 Simon Fraser* W 67-56
March 8 Alaska Fairbanks W 61-43
March 9 Seattle Pacific L 72-70
March 15 Chaminade W 102-87
March 18 Cal State San Bernardino W 86-77
March 19 Seattle Pacific W 62-58
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.