The atmosphere will be electric and history will be on the line Thursday night when Central Washington visits Western Washington for a regionally televised GNAC game.
Western, the defending NCAA Division II national champion, is 12-0 this season, ranked fifth nationally and will seek to extend an 18-game winning streak dating back to last season.
Though the Wildcats beat WWU last season, 89-82 on Feb. 18 in Nicholson Pavilion, they weren’t the last team to defeat the Vikings. Western lost to Northwest Nazarene 82-78 in the GNAC Tournament semifinals at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey before winning the D-II West Region tournament to reach the national Elite Eight, then won three games for the school’s first men’s national basketball title and the first won by a team from this state since Puget Sound took D-II honors in 1976.
“The place will be full,” Central coach Greg Sparling said recently, “it will be loud and everybody will be ready to play. It should be a great environment.”
CWU, which played poorly in a Thursday night home loss to Alaska Fairbanks, was much better in a Saturday night win over Alaska Anchorage.
Junior Mark McLaughlin received GNAC player of the week honorable mention after totaling 48 points, 13 rebounds and nine steals in last week’s games. He had nine points and two steals in the final minute of Saturday’s 81-72 conquest of Alaska Anchorage.
Speaking of the Alaska Anchorage game, Seawolves coach Rusty Osborne has received a one-game suspension from the conference for unsportsmanlike conduct in the game. Osborne was ejected late in the contest, and went onto the court to confront an official after being thrown out.
Osborne will sit out Thursday night’s home game against Western Oregon.
Central, at 91 points per game, leads the conference in scoring and ranks fifth nationally. Western, under first-year coach Tony Dominguez, is second in the GNAC at 90.8 points a game while leading the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage and blocked shots.
Rico Wilkins, a former Yakima Valley Community College guard, is the Vikings’ sixth man.
Western’s winning streak, which includes 15 straight at home, is tied for the longest in the 12-year history of the GNAC, with Alaska Anchorage having won 18 straight in 2007-08. It is also the second-longest in WWU history behind the 20 consecutive wins of 1970-72.
Against Central, Western has won seven of the last nine meetings.
The game, to be televised live on ROOT Sports, is scheduled to start at 9:10 p.m.