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BASKETBALL: Western Washington, Young win Division II national championship
Western Washington University is the 2012 NCAA Division II men’s basketball national champion.
The Vikings defeated Montevallo, Ala., 72-65, in the championship of the NCAA II Elite Eight on Saturday in a nationally televised contest at The Bank of Kentucky Center on the campus of host Northern Kentucky University.
Guard John Allen (Jr., Brier/Mountlake Terrace) led five WWU players in double figures with 14 points.
The Vikings, ranked No.12 in the latest National Association of Basketball Coaches/NCAA II Top 25 Poll, concluded their season 31-5, posting the most victories in school history.
Western's roster includes Federal Way High School graduate Dan Young. Young has played in 32 games this season for the Vikings and has been a defensive stalwart down low. He averaged 2.6 points and 2.5 rebounds a game in just 11.6 minutes a game. But Young led Western with 35 blocked shots on the season.
Montevallo fell to 29-8. Guard D.J. Rivera, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Elite Eight, led the Falcons with a game-high 20 points.
“I’m very proud of our players, very excited for them,” said WWU coach Brad Jackson (27th year). “They’ve worked very hard, they’ve maintained their focus throughout the year. They came here believing they could accomplish this.”
WWU held a 33-26 lead early in the second half before Montevallo hit seven straight shots from the field to go on a 14-2 run and take a 40-35 lead with 15:20 to play.
But the Vikings immediately responded with a run of their own, putting together a 14-4 charge in less than five minutes to go ahead, 49-44, with 10 minutes left, and eventually extending the margin to 61-49 on a three-pointer by Paul Jones (Jr., Kent/Kent-Meridian) with 6:19 left.
“They had not shot it well the whole tournament and tonight they shot it really well,” said Montevallo coach Danny Young of WWU’s hot stretch. “It got to be one time there when they were really rolling, even if you had your hand up it didn’t matter. It was going in.”
Forward Zach Henifin (Sr., Bellingham) and center Chris Mitchell (Jr., Everson/Nooksack Valley) played a key role in building the lead, combining for 20 of WWU’s first 26 points of the second half.
The Vikings, who shot 54 percent (27-of-50) from the field, led the rest of the way. Montevallo pulled to within four on a free throw by Antoine Davis, who finished with 16 points, with 58.3 seconds left, but got no closer.
“We’ve had other teams that had a lot of blowout wins, and we didn’t have many of those this year,” said Jackson, who claimed his 500th career victory (current total 518) earlier this season. “But we were good down the stretch of games, and it built a lot of confidence that we could get the job done.”
Mitchell finished 13 points, Henifin had 12. Jones and guard Richard Woodworth (So., Bellevue/Newport) each had 10 points, and forward Rory Blanche (Sr., Ashland, OR) added nine. Woodworth also had team-highs of nine rebounds and four assists.
“(Montevallo) is a tremendous team with tremendous athletes,” Woodworth said. “They made a run or two, but our guys never got down, we still had confidence and really felt we were going to pull it out.”
The first half was tightly contested, with no lead larger than five points. Montevallo held a 23-21 lead after a Rivera three-pointer with 6:21 left in the period, but the Vikings held the Falcons without a field goal the rest of the half and took a 30-26 lead at halftime after a jumper by Rico Wilkins (Jr., Dallas, TX/DeSoto) at the buzzer.
In all, the contest featured 16 lead changes, 12 in the first half, and five ties.
WWU held an opponent under 41 percent field goal shooting for the fifth straight game, as Montevallo shot just 37.5 percent (24-of-64) from the floor. The Falcons did have a 39-35 advantage in rebounds, grabbing 20 of their boards at the offensive end.
“We just couldn’t get anything going,” said Young. “We got a lot of attempts at the basket from five feet away and couldn’t put it in the hole. (Western) played great, they deserve all the credit. That’s just how it went.”
It was just the second trip to the NCAA II Elite Eight for the Vikings, who reached the national semifinals in 2001. It was, however, the fourth straight time a West Region representative played in the championship contest. Cal Poly Pomona reached the title game in 2009 and won it in 2010, and BYU-Hawaii reached the final last season.
The championship is the first NCAA basketball title at any level for a school from the state of Washington since University of Puget Sound won the NCAA II title in 1976.