AZUSA, Calif. – Rylee Kane and Alisha Breen played big through the entire NCAA Division West Region Tournament.
But the two seniors from Montana State Billings saved their largest plays for last, helping the Yellowjackets rally past Alaska Anchorage 71-70 for the West Region title on Monday night.
“I don’t have words to describe it,” said Breen by phone. “This team, everybody wants it so much. We are not going to fold under pressure.
“We get to keep playing. That’s all we wanted.”
The win, MSUB’s seventh straight, earns the Yellowjackets a berth in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Elite Eight begins on Monday, March 19.
“Our players, they’re just tough,” said MSUB coach Kevin Woodin. “This is our sixth straight tournament game that’s been a one possession game. The players, they were not going to be denied.”
Kane’s two free throws with 4.3 seconds remaining gave MSUB its final lead and Breen’s block on the Seawolves’ Hannah Wandersee on the final play sealed the victory.
“We knew it had to be a quick play and they would probably go to her,” Breen said. “I was lucky enough to find the ball. I met her before she got a shot up and spiked it.”
“It was pretty tense,” added Woodin.
Kane with 14 points, was chosen the West Region MVP. Breen, with 16 points, was also an all-West Region selection. Earlier in the day, it was announced that Breen was chosen the West Region Player of the year.
Breen (9 of 10) and Kane (7 of 8) combined to make 16 of 18 free throws in the championship game.
Vanessa Stavish kept MSUB in the game early, posting a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. She made her first five 3-point attempts of the game. Hannah Collins also hit a couple of big 3-pointers for the Yellowjackets.
“Vanessa was huge for us,” said Breen. “She’s one of the best shooters in the conference. If you leave her open like that, she’s going to punish you.”
The Yellowjackets (25-11) will play the South Central Region winner in the first round of the Elite Eight.
The 25 wins matches the program record for most victories in a season. MSUB is returning to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1999.
UAA (27-5) had swept the Yellowjackets during the regular season and had won nine straight meetings. MSUB’s last win against the Seawolves was on March 1, 2014.
The Yellowjackets were the No. 7 seed in the West Region, while UAA was No. 5.
MSUB fell behind by as many as 10 in the first half and trailed 70-69 with 43.2 seconds remaining. MSUB forced a UAA shot clock violation but turned the ball over with 11.3 seconds left.
The Seawolves returned the favor with a turnover with 9.3 seconds left to play. Kane drove to her right to draw the foul and hit the game-winning free throws. Breen used her left hand to block Wandersee’s last shot. Wandersee finished with 18 points.
Breen now has 1,976 points, second-most in MSUB women’s basketball history, while Kane has climbed into the top 15 with 1,204 career points. Breen also holds the MSUB single-season scoring record with 767 points. Kane ranks second all-time for career assists.
MSUB advanced to the West Region by winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament in Anchorage, Alaska. The Yellowjackets defeated Northwest Nazarene and Seattle Pacific, two teams which had swept MSUB during the regular season.
The No. 7 at the West Region, the Yellowjackets defeated No. 2 seed Hawaii Pacific, No 3 seed UC San Diego and fifth-seeded UAA.
MSUB is playing in the NCAA Division II National Tournament a third time in five years and 14th overall in program history. The Yellowjackets last played in the West Region title game in 2014, losing 75-68 to Cal Poly Pomona.