NCAA WOMEN’S D-II PREVIEW: Pomona and Billings must avoid land-mines

 

This eight team NCAA Tournament field is stacked with some very good teams from the Great Northwest Conference (GNAC) , Pacific-West (PAC-WEST) and California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA.) The regional match-ups are intriguing and it promises to be an exciting three-day tournament on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona. We take a look at the day one match-ups.

It was a tremendous season for the Cal Poly Pomona women’s basketball team. With a 22-6 record and a CCAA regular season championship they earned the right to host NCAA West Regional at Kellogg Gym beginning this Friday.

Jada Blackwell was a dominant force in the CCAA and looks to lead her team to the Elite Eight Courtesy BroncoAthletics.com
Jada Blackwell was a dominant force in the CCAA and looks to lead her team to the Elite Eight
Courtesy BroncoAthletics.com

In the first round match-up the Broncos will take on Alaska Anchorage from the GNAC. Pomona is led by Arizona State transfer and CCAA-Player of the Year Jada Blackwell. Blackwell was a dominant player in the conference averaging a double-double. She is a multifaceted offensive force who can post you up, take you off the dribble and even knock down a three. A great player. Don’t sleep on sharp-shooter Ariel Marsh (60 3’s) along with JJ Judge and Ashley Lovett.

The Broncos rolled through the CCAA and were the best team over the long haul. Pick your poison with the Broncos, if you decide to collapse on Blackwell with double and triple-teams, their outside shooters Marsh and Judge will gut you. If you play Blackwell straight up, well, good luck with that. If you can force misses, you can run on the Broncos, and Pomona must keep Blackwell on the floor. If she gets in foul trouble, Marsh and Judge will need to get it going offensively. A worthy top seed that will be helped with the home crowd.

Anchorage is one of the best offensive teams on the west coast averaging 80 points a game. The Seawolves have four players that average double figures let by Alli Madison who averages 12.9 points per game. The Seawolves have great balance to their offense which will make them tough to defend.

Don’t let their number eight seed fool you. Many of us who followed west region basketball all season were surprised to see their precipitous drop in the final regional rankings. Some tough mid-season losses to sub .500 teams may have hurt their resume, but this team is dangerous. If Pomona relies ONLY on Blackwell to do the heavy-lifting, the balance of Anchorage could give them fits. This game doesn’t FEEL like your typical 1 vs 8 seeding match-up. This should be a good one. Tip is at 7:30pm on Friday night.

The Pomona/Anchorage winner will play the winner of the 4 vs 5 match-up. Cal State Dominguez Hills and Chico State. These two teams will be playing one another for the fourth time this season; and for the third time in the last month. Dominguez is surging after a great run through the CCAA Tournament. The Toros had gone 0-4 against both Chico State and Pomona before dispatching of both teams in Ontario last weekend.

Chico got off to a rough start but turned their season around with some big road wins at Pomona and Humboldt in late January. It started a run of seven straight wins for this senior laden team.

It’s hard to gauge and define mental toughness, but the eyes don’t lie when watching Dominguez at work. They have it.  They trailed Chico by 15 points with 14 minutes to play and rallied for a 12-point win.

This young team didn’t get discouraged when shots wouldn’t drop, they kept grinding and eventually it paid off with a game closing 38-11 run. The Toros are led by Monay Lee at better than 14 points a game. Dominguez feeds off of her toughness. Tayler Champion is a post who loves to step out and knock down the three. She has hit 62 treys on the season. Amber Wharton and Breanne Garcia are back-court mates that run the show and can utilize the dribble drive to get their teammates involved. The inside toughness of Talia Rayford and Shomari McCorkle can not be over-looked. McCorkle doesn’t score much but her effect on the game can not be over-stated.

The Chico State Wildcats are making their third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It’s also the program’s 10th appearance in the last 12 years. Chico is led by four seniors that have been part of one of the most successful classes in school history. Courtney Hamilton makes this team go. She is their fearless leader who led the CCAA at better than 6 assists a game. Hamilton is not a big scorer, but if her team needs her she will attack the rim. The Wildcats feed off of her tenacity and its fair to say as she goes, so go the Cats.

Courtney Hamilton is the heart and soul of the Chico State Wildcats. Chico and Dominguez Hills get ready for their fourth match-up of the year COURTESY chicowildcats.com
Courtney Hamilton is the heart and soul of the Chico State Wildcats. Chico and Dominguez Hills get ready for their fourth match-up of the year
COURTESY chicowildcats.com

Jazmine Miller is their leading scorer at better than 13 points a game. She has hit a team high 48 three-pointers on the year. The Wildcats need Miller to be engaged early. If she is, she can carry the scoring load. McKenzie Dalthorp and Analise Riezebos are the senior posts who patrol the paint. Riezebos pounds the boards and provides solid defense, while Dalthorp scores 10 points a game and is a very good passer out of a double-team. Her ability to find open teammates when she is doubled is one of her greatest strengths.

Chico beat Dominguez twice this year in two thrilling match-ups. 80-78 in Chico and 54-51 on February 15th in Carson. If Chico was a younger team last Friday’s second-half blitzing by the Toros may have lingered and left a bruise. But, having covered this team all season long I would be surprised if that loss will have any residual effect on this team. This could be the best game of not only the first round, but of the tournament. Chico’s head coach  Brian Fogel and Dominguez Hills head coach Molly Goodenbauer are good friends. Goodenbauer coached at Chico and had Fogel as an assistant. There will not be any surprises. It’s pretty simple, the team that plays better, stays the most consistent over 40 minutes, and minimizes mistakes will win this one. The game will be played at 5pm on Friday night.

The first game of the day pits the Simon Fraser Clan against the Western Washington Vikings. Again, a match-up of conference teams that are quite familiar with one another. Simon Fraser went 19-9 on the season are led by a triumvirate of three-point shooters that can carry the load. Erin Chambers averages 22 points a game and has hit 55 three’s on the year. But, she is also a versatile scorer as she can take the ball to the basket and has a penchant for getting to the free throw line. Chambers has taken 206 free throws. She can put points on the board even when the perimeter shot isn’t dropping. Katie Lowen has hit a team high 57 three’s and Marie-Line Petit has hit 37 from long distance. The Clan have seven players that average at least 6 points.

So much for a rebuilding project for the Western Washington Vikings. After their final four run last year the Vikings are now rolling into the 2014 NCAA Tournament after knocking off Simon Fraser 78-74 in the conference tourney title game, Western earned the automatic qualifier out of the GNAC. They were a true bubble team after sitting at number nine in the region but the win over The Clan removed any doubt.

The Western Washington overcome a rough start to their season to surge into NCAA Tournament Courtesy WWUVikings.com
The Western Washington overcome a rough start to their season to surge into NCAA Tournament
Courtesy WWUVikings.com

Western’s early season losses had them playing catch up for much of the year, but they have played really good basketball since early January. The Vikings have won 14 of 17 since January 9th, including two wins versus Simon Fraser. Western has great balance to their offense with four players averaging double-figures. Katie Colard leads the way scoring 14 points a game. Colard has nailed 78 three’s on the year and shoots the trey at 40 percent. Jenni White (10.6 ppg) and Taylor Peacocke (11 ppg) are keys as well. Sarah Hill has been a solid post for several seasons. She patrols the paint and averages 10 points and nearly 9 rebounds a game.

Like the Chico and Dominguez match-up there will not be any surprises between these two teams. This is the fourth time they will meet this season and it’s the third time in the last 13 days they will battle it out. This should also be a great game for the fans.  Western Washington and Simon Fraser will play at 12 noon on Friday afternoon at Kellogg Gym.

The final first round match-up pits Montana State Billings against Academy of Art from the Pac-West Conference. Billings was in the running for the top seed in the tournament, but when they bowed out early in the GNAC tourney it all but ended any hopes they had of hosting the regional.

Billings has had a great year going 23-6 including an 11-game winning streak. They also won 13 of their final 14 regular season games. They have three players that average double-figures. Bobbi Knudsen is their best scorer and distributor. She averages 17 points a game and nearly 6 assists. She not only fills it up but she gets her teammates involved. Knudsen also helps out on the boards pulling more than 5 a game.

One of the big question marks for Billings is the loss of Janiel Olson. She played in the first 23 games for the Jackets leading them in minutes played while pulling down 10.4 rebounds a game. She can not be replaced, instead the Yellow Jackets will need multiple players to fill the void to make up for her loss.

Trying to do so will be Kayleen Goggins (10.8 ppg) and Chelsea Banis (10.4 ppg.) They are part of a core group that has the Yellow Jackets outscoring their opponents by 11 points a contest. Quinn Peoples comes off the bench and has hit 68 three’s on the year. One of the great strengths of the Jackets’ is their ability to board. They out-rebound their opponents by 8 rebounds a game. Billings will get into you defensively giving up only 63 points a game. Its’ going to take a well-played game to knock out Billings. They pose a major threat in this regional.

Academy of Art, the lone representative from the Pacific West conference takes on Billings in the first round. Art was clearly the class of the Pac-West but because of the perceived weakness of their conference may have needed to win their conference tourney to get in. The Urban Knights won their tournament in resounding fashion and punctuated their season with Pac-West Tourney wins over Dixie State and Cal Baptist.

Academy of Art has five players that average double-figures as they put up nearly 80 points a game. Post player Krystal Forthan leads the way scoring more than 19 points and grabbing 12.5 rebounds a game. She has been a dominant player in the paint for the Urban Knights. Forthan also makes her presence felt on the defensive end blocking 47 shots and changing countless others. For Academy of Art to try to pull the upset they will need a big game from Forthan. Regina Camera, Zoie Sheng, Sha’Nice Storey and Molly O’Brien all average more than 10 points per game.

The Urban Knights have done a great job in forcing turnovers as their opponents cough it up nearly 21 times a game. While they force a lot of turnovers they don’t commit many. Academy of Art has committed nearly 200 fewer turnovers on the season.  This statistic will be critical in their upset bid. The Urban Knights take on Billings at 2:30 on Friday afternoon.

The Division II Women’s West Regional should be an exciting three days of basketball.  Pomona is the top seed, but they have a tough first round match-up, and even if they win, they might have to face a Chico team that swept them during the regular season or a Dominguez team that beat them in the CCAA Tourney final on Saturday.

Billings is balanced, but even if they get past the Urban Knights they will have to face a familiar GNAC foe (Simon Fraser or Western) in the semis just to get to the title game. The committee put a bunch of landmines in front of the top two seeds. 1-thru-8 in this regional is wide open and it will be a great test for all the schools making their way to Kellogg Gym.

The NCAA West Regional begins with four games on Friday beginning at 12 Noon. You gotta love March Madness !!!

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