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Preview: Wildcats to play MSU Billings, No.6 SPU at home

Scott Herman - January 16, 2013

After battling through two challenging road games last week, the Central men will be glad to return home to Nicholson Pavilion.

After the Wildcats’ heartbreaking loss to then-No.5 ranked Western Washington, the team saved face by posting a remarkable comeback win against Simon Fraser, eliminating a 11 point deficit to find victory in Burnaby, British Columbia.

This Thursday, the Wildcats will be playing host to Montana State-Billings (8-8 overall, 1-4 in GNAC play) with hopes of continuing their recent success against the Yellow Jackets. Central has won the last five meetings with the Yellow Jackets, and MSUB hasn’t won in Ellensburg since March 4, 2010.

Central’s interior defense will be tasked with containing Yellow Jackets’ senior forward Jarrell Crayton. At 6 feet 7 inches and 220 pounds, Crayton could be a load to handle in the paint; he ranks in the top 10 of six major statistical categories in the conference, while averaging 15.5 points per game and 7.4 rebounds.

The larger goal for the Wildcats in Thursday’s game is to not look past MSUB at the looming match up taking place on Saturday when sixth-ranked Seattle Pacific University rolls into the valley for a 7 p.m. tip off in Nicholson Pavilion.

Although the Falcons swept the regular season match ups against CWU last year, the Wildcats got the better of SPU when it mattered most, winning 70-69 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Falcons bring to town the league’s grittiest defense, surrendering only 59.5 points per game. They also dominate the glass, scooping more boards than every team they have faced thus far this season by a sound margin of 12.2 rebounds per game.

The Falcons are also ranked sixth in the nation in assists and, as further testimony to their defense, have allowed only one opponent to crack the 70 point barrier, something Central will be looking to achieve Saturday night.

Central’s potent offense is unquestioned, with five players averaging double-figures and collectively putting up 90.4 points per contest, good enough to rank fourth in the nation. The Wildcats are giving up 83.5 points per game, which needs to be corrected if Saturday’s heavyweight bout becomes a defensive standoff.

Something will have to give however, as the best offense and stingiest defense in the GNAC will each be trying their best to force their style of play on the other teams.

A pair of Wildcat victories this week could be crucial and also lend some clarity to an otherwise cluttered pack in the GNAC standings. Central, Alaska-Anchorage, and Northwest Nazarene are all dead-locked at 3-3 in conference play.

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