Needing a win to jumpstart some good feeling heading into a seven-game dash to the end of Western Washington’s regular season, the Vikings turned to their defense.
Western implemented first-half 3/4-court pressure, forced Alaska Fairbanks to work for its points and displayed in-your-face, swarming defense throughout.
“Our mindset has to be defense,” sophomore forward Jeffrey Parker said. “Some nights our offense won’t be there, so we have to make sure we bring a lot of defensive intensity. We brought that tonight.”
The end result was an 80-57 Great Northwest Athletic Conference win Saturday, Jan. 31, at Carver Gym, a welcome feeling after the Vikings were coming off back-to-back home losses for the first time since the end of the 2010-11 season.
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Western’s suffocating defense produced 14 steals, 22 turnovers and the Vikings scored 24 points off Nanooks’ miscues. WWU’s 57 points allowed was 16.1 less than its season average.
Parker, who scored a game-high 26 points, was an integral part of a 26-4 early second-half run that gave Western a 66-40 edge with 9:28 to play. Parker scored 10 points during the scoring blitz.
“Jeffrey has been really focusing in mentally, and he’s had some struggles,” Vikings coach Tony Dominguez said. “As a coach you want him to be a senior; he’s only a sophomore. ... He shoots the ball extremely well, and when he’s active he’s really tough underneath.”
The win kept Western (11-10, 4-7) in the league’s sixth position, which is the final advancing spot to March’s GNAC Tournament.
WWU’s Ricardo Maxwell scored 15 points, and Mac Johnson had 12 to go with seven rebounds.
Alaska Fairbanks (5-14, 2-9 GNAC), which beat Western 64-40 on Jan. 1 in Alaska, dropped its seventh straight game. The trip to Bellingham marked the return of three former Whatcom County players — Whatcom Community College’s Eric Fongue and Alex Duncan and former Nooksack Valley standout Anthony Reese.
UAF’s Ashton Edwards and Almir Hadzisehovic each scored 13 points, Fongue chipped in 11, Reese had five and Duncan scored two points with a team-high five assists.
The first half of Western’s GNAC season has been mired with adversity. The Vikings, who were the preseason favorite to win the league, have dealt with injuries and stinging close losses, but Dominguez before the game delivered a message imploring his team to flush the past.
“He said this game was the start of a new season for us, let the past be the past,” Parker said. “We threw all the garbage in the past away, brought a lot of fire and we were happy about that.”
UAF led 11-4 early before Western wrestled back control using a 15-2 run, putting the Vikings in front 19-13 with 7:03 left in the first.
WWU held a 34-27 halftime advantage, but Alaska Fairbanks trimmed its deficit to 40-36 with 16:08 to play. But WWU’s massive ensuing run put the game out of reach.
Parker scored 18 of his 26 in the second half, shooting 5 of 8 from the field, including 3 of 6 from the 3-point line. Many other Vikings played a role in the win. Seldom-used big man Blake Bowen scored seven points off the bench, Anye Turner recorded four points, a team-high eight rebounds and logged three steals and both Javier Harris and Kyle Impero operated WWU’s offense well.