The final two minutes of Western Washington’s rivalry matchup against Central Washington revealed the Vikings’ maturation during the past four Great Northwest Athletic Conference games.
It’s no secret WWU has struggled closing out opponents this winter. Five of its seven league losses have been by four or less points.
But after watching their once massive lead whittled down to four points in the closing minutes, Western played poised.
“It’s been something that has been kind of nagging us, a lot of close games that we just didn’t finish up at the end of the game,” senior captain Anye Turner said.
Backed by a huge energy boost from Turner, the Vikings converted free throws in the waning moments and played strong defense necessary to earn an 83-77 GNAC win over rival CWU Thursday, Feb. 12, at Carver Gym.
Western guard Ricardo Maxwell scored a team-high 20 points, Jeffrey Parker added 18 and nine boards, Turner had 17 to go with his team-high 12 rebounds and Mac Johnson added 10 points with seven boards.
The victory was the fourth straight, matching the longest win streak of the year for the Vikings (14-10, 7-7 GNAC). The win also snapped a two-game home losing streak after WWU previously had won 45 of 46 in the confines of Carver and split the season series with the Wildcats, who beat WWU 74-71 on Jan. 14 in Ellensburg.
The Vikings led by as much as 21 points late in the first half after venturing on a 25-2 run, but Central chipped away after halftime.
The Wildcats cut the lead to 64-59 with 7:54 to play, and in desperate need of a spark, Turner came off the bench with four fouls at the 7:14 mark, providing the desired energy.
The 6-foot-7 senior forward scored 11 points in the final 5:30, offering Western an offensive solution while also making an impact on the glass and defensive end.
“Our senior captain Anye Turner just had a phenomenal game,” Dominguez said. “We are very, very excited, and I feel like the group is really coming together.”
Turner picked up his fourth foul with 12:59 left, and after sitting for nearly six minutes while watching his team’s lead dissolve, he said he wanted to contribute any way he could once entering back into the game.
“Just work hard and do what my team needs me to do,” Turner said. “We all have our own roles, just play within my role and play to my best ability and it all worked out.”
Central trimmed WWU’s lead to 78-75 with a layup at the 1:27 mark, and after a Turner free throw an alley-oop dunk from CWU’s Joseph Stroud, Western led only 79-77 with 0:16 to go.
The Vikings’ 66.8 free-throw percentage ranks seventh in the GNAC, but guard Kyle Impero converted two clutch free throws with 0:14 left, virtually sealing the game.
“We have worked hard on that in practice,” Maxwell said, “coming down to close situations in the game, focusing more on free throws and whatever else we need to pull the game through.”
Central was led by Dom Williams’ 23 points. Gary Jacobs (15), Stroud (12) and Marc Rodgers (11) also reached double figures, and Western outrebounded CWU 42-28.
WESTERN WASHINGTON 83, CENTRAL WASHINGTON 77
CENTRAL WASHINGTON (13-7, 8-5 GNAC)
Williams,Dom 10-20 0-0 23; Jacobs,Gary 6-13 3-3 15; Stroud,Joseph 5-7 2-4 12; Rodgers,Marc 3-7 5-6 11; Dawn,Terry 2-6 1-2 5; Roppo,Joey 1-3 3-4 5; Peake,Jalen 1-1 0-0 3; Vaughn,Julian 1-2 1-2 3; Matthews,Devin 0-2 0-0 0; Bryant,Jerome 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 29-63 15-21 77.
WESTERN WASHINGTON (14-10, 7-7 GNAC)
Maxwell,Ricardo 9-15 1-3 20; Parker,Jeffrey 7-13 4-4 18; Turner,Anye 6-9 5-7 17; Johnson,Mac 4-9 1-4 10; Schreiber,Joey 2-7 4-4 9; Impero,Kyle 1-5 4-4 7; Javier,Harris 1-3 0-0 2; Bowen,Blake 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-61 19-26 83.
Half: WWU 47, CWU 33
3-point field goals: Central Washington 4-16 (Williams,Dom 3-9; Peake,Jalen 1-1; Stroud,Joseph 0-1; Rodgers,Marc 0-1; Dawn,Terry 0-2; Vaughn,Julian 0-1; Jacobs,Gary 0-1), Western Washington 4-12 (Schreiber,Joey 1-3; Johnson,Mac 1-1; Maxwell,Ricardo 1-4; Impero,Kyle 1-2; Parker,Jeffrey 0-2). Fouled out: Central Washington-None, Western Washington-None. Rebounds: Central Washington 28 (Stroud,Joseph 6), Western Washington 42 (Turner,Anye 12). Assists: Central Washington 12 (Jacobs,Gary 7), Western Washington 13 (Javier,Harris 5). Total fouls: Central Washington 20, Western Washington 18. Technical fouls: Central Washington-Jacobs,Gary, Western Washington-Parker,Jeffrey. A-1609