Western extends CWU’s losing streak
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Yet another disappointing loss Thursday night for CWU’s men’s basketball team as they lost to GNAC-leading WWU (20-5, 14-3 GNAC) 85-72. This loss makes eight in a row for the Wildcats, the worst losing streak in school history since 1927.
Despite getting sophomore guard Naim Ladd back after a 2-game absence, the Wildcats were heavily inefficient on both offense and defense. As a team, CWU only shot 37.5 percent from the field (27-72), and had trouble from the free throw (61.1 percent, 11-18) and three-point (30.4 percent, 7-23) lines.
“They were just hitting a lot of shots that we couldn’t make,” junior center Fuquan Niles said. “That separated us from them tonight.”
Vikings’ senior guard Taylor Stafford set the tone the entire night, beginning the game with a driving lay-up around Niles’ 6-foot-11-inch frame and a difficult midrange shot over senior guard Dom Hunter. While Stafford only made two three-pointers out of eight attempts, he finished with 32 points and seven rebounds.
“Stafford is probably the MVP of our conference,” head coach Greg Sparling said. “He’s just so smooth, shooting the three, the hesitation the pull-up, he’s hard to guard.”
Niles, who finished with a double-double (14 points, 14 rebounds), was exposed on defense throughout the night off of screens by Stafford and in the paint by junior forward Deandre Dickson who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“With me being a big defender and me effecting the defense, I know they want to get me out quick [with fouls],” Niles said. “That’s their goal, to attack me and get me in foul trouble so I can come out. So talking to coaches beforehand, they told me to keep my hands straight up as much as possible so I don’t need to come out of the game.”
The game started as an even match-up with Stafford and Hunter exchanging big shots and after five minutes the score was 9-7 with WWU maintaining a small lead. CWU then couldn’t keep up, missing seven of their next eight shots while WWU made eight in a row.
The Wildcats tried to catch up to the Vikings all night, eventually taking the lead 33-32 with less than 2:28 left in the first half. The Wildcats then allowed a basket and then turned the ball over, and were down 38-33 in an instant.
Hunter and Niles were not on the same page on pick and rolls in the first half, with Hunter driving into multiple defenders on most occasions while Niles looked out of position. Ladd couldn’t find the basket at all, going 1-7 from the field in the first half and finishing 1-11, including 0-6 from 3-point range.
“I don’t know how many shots went in and out tonight for us,” Sparling said. “There were a lot of shots we were making at the beginning of the season. How many shots just went down and out, down and out, down and out. I thought we took better shots tonight, but obviously at the end of the day shooting 37 percent… you’re not gonna win too many games.”
At the start of the second half senior guard Terry Dawn came alive for the Wildcats, making two three-pointers and Hunter followed with a three-point shot of his own which cut WWU’s lead to four. After that made basket, the Vikings went on a 12-2 run and the Wildcats never got the lead back down to less than eight. Ladd grew visibly frustrated with his inability to score, after two consecutive shots went into the basket and rimmed out.
“He was [rusty], but what do you do?” Sparling said of Ladd. “You can’t jerk him out right away, then his confidence goes, we have to try and knock the rust off.”
Down the stretch, desperate for answers, coach Sparling put senior forward Chris-Michael Garret on Stafford in an attempt to slow down his drives into the paint, but Stafford still scored 10 points in the last eight minutes.
“I wanted to put a bigger guy on him,” Sparling said. “To make him shoot over the top, we had to try something to stop him or slow him down. Not too many people in this conference have figured that out yet.”
The Wildcats (12-11, 7-10 GNAC) face Simon Fraser (3-22, 1-16 GNAC) on Saturday before travelling to face Alaska (12-14, 7-10 GNAC) and Alaska-Anchorage (19-6, 13-4 GNAC), Hunter’s former school, next week. The Wildcats, who started the season 12-3, currently sit eighth in the GNAC with the chance of making the GNAC tournament growing smaller during an eight-game freefall.
“For us to have any chance, we have to win out,” Sparling said. “Which won’t be easy… You’re worried about the hangover of a big Central-Western game.”
WWU faces Northwest Nazarene (12-11, 9-8 GNAC) Saturday before finishing the season against Seattle Pacific (12-14, 8-10 GNAC) and Saint Martin’s (15-10, 9-8 GNAC) next week. WWU holds a one game lead on Alaska-Anchorage in the GNAC standings with only three games remaining for each team.
Junior guard Blake Fernandez contributed 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Vikings.
Garret contributed six points, five rebounds and five assists for the Wildcats. Junior guard Jawan Stepney added eight points and three assists, and Dawn added nine points.