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Western women capture second straight GNAC title, clinch regional berth

Oberg, Walling drop 17 each in win over MSU Billings

Western Washington women's basketball celebrates Saturday, March 9 after defeating MSU Billings, 54-52, to capture their second straight Great Northwest Conference championship in Ellensburg. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Thompson/Central Washington University Athletics)
By Mathew Callaghan Sports Intern

Clutch 3-pointers from Mason Oberg and a game-winning finger-roll layup by Brooke Walling helped Western Washington women’s basketball clinch a second consecutive Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships title with a 54-52 win over MSU Billings on Saturday, March 9 in Ellensburg. 

The Vikings (23-6), ranked No. 24 nationally, earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Championships West Regional for the fourth straight season. They will await Selection Sunday, March 10 to see who and where they will play next week at a to-be-determined site. 

“I am so proud of this team,” Western head coach Carmen Dolfo said. “We had a tough loss last week to end the regular season, and came back and worked really hard in practice and came into this tournament with a change of attitude and a fresh mentality.” 

Western sophomore Mason Oberg unloads a 3-pointer with her teammates on their feet. Oberg finished with 17 points. (Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics)

Saturday night was a battle between two dominant post players: Western’s Brooke Walling, who tallied a team-high 17 points to earn her second straight GNAC Tournament MVP. And MSU Billings senior forward Kola Bad Bear, the GNAC Player of the Year who scored a game-high 18. 

Western junior guard Mason Oberg, who also scored a team-high 17, shot 63.3% from the field and connected on 3 of 4 from downtown, two of which came in the final three minutes to give Western its first lead since halfway through the third quarter.  

Stephanie Peterson, Western’s senior point guard, had an all-around night with eight points, eight boards, six assists, three steals and one block.

Even with those performances and Western outrebounding MSU Billings, 39-32, the Yellowjackets led by four with 2:53 left to play when Dolfo called a timeout.  

Brooke Walling gets past MSU Billings defenders for a layup. Walling won her second straight GNAC Tournament MVP. (Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics)

Right out of break, Oberg nailed a 3-pointer to help the Vikings regain momentum. Then on the defensive end, Peterson blocked a 3-point attempt from MSU junior guard Kortney Nelson as the shot clock expired.  

Trailing 50-49 with less than two minutes to go, Walling pulled down an offensive board and dished out to Peterson who, without hesitation, swung the ball to a wide-open Oberg on the left wing who drilled another 3-pointer. 

A strong take that resulted in two free throws from Yellowjackets junior forward Dyauni Boyce tied the game at 52.   

With 40 seconds to go, Walling waited for Bad Bear to close out flat-footed before driving in for a lefty finger roll that hit nothing but net — and would be the eventual game-winner.  

Western junior Riley Dykstra lines up an uncontested shot. (Photo courtesy of WWU Athletics)

With Western up 54-52, MSU got the ball to junior guard Aspen Giese who shot a wide-open 3-pointer. Giese, a 40% shooter from range this season, missed far to the right and Western regained possession. 

All the Vikings had to do was inbound the ball and wait to be fouled to seal the game. But the Yellowjackets’ suffocating defense forced a five-second violation and MSU got the ball back with 19 seconds left.  

After a missed Bad Bear layup, MSU managed to secure the ball, call a timeout and get a second chance at sending the game to overtime. With only four seconds left, the Vikings doubled the entry pass to Bad Bear and forced the ball into the hands of Nelson. As the clock ticked down and no play seemed to develop, Nelson was forced to send up a prayer that fell short.  

“I thought we executed our game plan to open the tournament yesterday and followed that with another similar performance tonight, playing with our hearts,” Dolfo said. “We didn’t hit as many shots tonight, but we played such hard defense, and they helped each other out and played with a lot of passion.” 

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