BELLINGHAM - On Sarah Hill's senior night she showed why she is the leader of the Western Washington University women's basketball team. With the score tied at 62 and just over two minutes left against Simon Fraser University, Hill swallowed up a rebound off teammate Tia Briggs' shot. Hill immediately went back up with the ball and put it in the hoop, taking a foul from a Clan player at the same time.
The 6-foot-3 center emerged from the crowd under the hoop pumping her fist and letting loose a big yell, knowing the upcoming free throw would set the tone for the final two minutes of the game. She sunk it to put the Vikings up 65-62 with two minutes remaining, giving her team an edge it would hold for the final moments of the game.
The Vikings came away with a 72-63 win over SFU in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference game on Saturday, March 1, at WWU's Carver Gym. Hill led WWU in her final game in Carver with 13 points and 18 rebounds.
"At first I wanted to throw up because I was so excited, and happy and sad," Hill said. "I had to just bury it. I knew my team needed me and what kind of a senior would I be if I didn't step up?"
After Hill's free throw established positive momentum for the Vikings, the Clan were forced to foul. WWU went 5 of 6 from the charity stripe in the final two minutes, and the final two came from Hill, who blew a kiss to the crowd with her hands up as she exited the game following her shots.
"She went out in style. I had to tell her to conserve her energy on the bench because we needed it on the floor," WWU coach Carmen Dolfo said. "She brings so much heart and desire and she's just a really special woman."
Vikings guard Jenni White sealed the game by grabbing a steal with 29 seconds left and running in a circle to avoid SFU defenders and run out the clock. She finished with a team-high 14 points and four steals.
With the victory the Vikings' eyes will be on University of Alaska-Anchorage in its game against Montana State University-Billings. If the Seawolves lose, WWU earns the No. 2 seed in the GNAC Tournament and a first-round bye, but if UAA wins, it gets the No. 2 seed and a bye. The tournament begins on Wednesday, March 5, at Saint Martin's University in Lacey.
"We've had nine players all year, so if we get the bye and don't have to win our first game, that makes a big difference for us," Dolfo said.
In the opening minutes against the Clan, WWU looked like it might run away with the game. The Vikings jumped out to a 16-6 lead nine minutes into the game, but SFU came charging back and held a momentary 18-16 lead.
"I think we stopped attacking," Dolfo said. "We came out on the attack, but then we sat back on our back foot, just trying not to lose our lead. We don't play well that way."
WWU pushed the pace and came back to grab a 25-20 lead. The Vikings kept the Clan at bay for the rest of the half, holding a 32-28 edge at the break.
The second half began at the same quick pace as when the first half ended, but WWU was unable to convert its first few baskets and the Clan tied the game at 32. Simon Fraser center Rebecca Langmead was key to the early success, with two points, two rebounds and a block.
WWU found its rhythm again after guard Katie Colard got the Vikings started with a bucket followed by a block on the defensive end. Clan forward Erin Chambers kept SFU close over the next few minutes with four of her 23 points. The Vikings were solid defensively against Chambers, as she struggled in shooting 8 of 22 from the field.
"Everybody was really focused on defense," Dolfo said. "It was Marcel Pounds' job to stop Chambers. Now, she got her 23 points, but I felt like Marcel pressured and made her work hard for every shot."
Forward Sydney Donaldson helped the Vikings jump out to its biggest lead until the final minutes. She hit her trademark up-and-under move to get a lay-in followed up by a steal on defense to put WWU up 51-43. SFU's Chambers and Langmead led the Clan as they evened it up before Hill's big three-point play to put the Vikings up for good.
Donaldson finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. Forward Tia Briggs also contributed 13 points and seven rebounds.
Reach Alex Peterson at email@example.com or 360-715-2285.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 72, SIMON FRASER 63
SIMON FRASER: Chambers,Erin 23; Wilson,Meg 10; Langmead,Rebecca 8; Van Laare,Kia 8; Petit,Marie-Line 5; Reist,Chelsea 4; Kett,Ellen 3; Sider,Ariana 2. Totals 26-70 10-18 63.
WESTERN WASHINGTON: White,Jenni 14; Briggs,Tia 13; Hill,Sarah 13; Donaldson,Sydney 12; Peacocke,Taylor 9; Colard,Katie 7; Pounds,Marcel 4; Gandy,Kiana 0. Totals 27-62 16-23
Half: WWU 32, Simon Fraser 28
3-point goals--Simon Fraser 1 (Petit,Marie-Line 1), Western Washington 2 (White,Jenni 1-2; Colard,Katie 1). Fouled out-Simon Fraser-Kett,Ellen; Chambers,Erin; Van Laare,Kia, Western
Washington-Pounds,Marcel. Rebounds--Simon Fraser 41 (Langmead,Rebecca 9), Western Washington 45 (Hill,Sarah 18). Assists--Simon Fraser 11 (Kett,Ellen 4), Western Washington 10 (Colard,Katie 3; White,Jenni 3). Total
fouls--Simon Fraser 24, Western Washington 17. Technical fouls-Simon Fraser-None, Western Washington-None. A-806