Western Washington’s men were obviously extraordinarily good last season. They won the NCAA Division II national championship, after all.
But this season’s Vikings, under first-year coach Tony Dominguez, are the best small-college basketball team I’ve ever seen. I truly believe they’re better than last year’s squad, although winning a national championship when each regional and national playoff game is a loser-out proposition is quite chancy.
Western is extremely quick — even big men Chris Mitchell and Austin Bragg have quick feet. The Vikings have shooters galore — Mitchell and Bragg will take and make open 3-pointers if left open — and the backcourt trio of John Allen, Richard Woodworth and ex-Yakima Valley CC standout Rico Wilkins is talented and tough.
The Vikings rebound and defend. They play hard, they play smart and they play tough.
I’ve seen many great Central Washington teams over the years, with the 26-4 squad of 2010-11 among the best. And I’ve seen a lot of outstanding Western squads, including the 1971-72 team coached by Chuck Randall which, competing in the NAIA ranks, set records currently being broken by the 2012-13 squad.
But just as the 1964-65 Davis Pirates remain the best high school team I’ve seen, this Western team, having beaten Central by 10 with leading scorer John Allen so sick he could barely walk, is the best of four-year, small-college ranks.
Also, kudos to Central’s outstanding band that performs at basketball games and treats fans to some truly exceptional music.
I’m especially impressed with the group’s rendition of “I Saw Her Standing There,” an early Beatles song that I first heard as the flip side of one of their first hits, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
Another personal favorite is “Gimme Some Lovin’” originally recorded by the Spencer Davis Group and later revived by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as The Blues Brothers.
And when the band gives way to the recording of Guns N’ Roses rock anthem “Welcome to the Jungle,” traditionally played in Nicholson Pavilion when the basketball team comes out for warmups, the band members do the only logical thing — they dance.
GNAC standings — men (conference, season): Western Washington (13-0, 22-0); Seattle Pacific (10-2, 17-3); Alaska Anchorage (8-5, 15-6); Alaska Fairbanks (8-5, 13-8); Central Washington (7-6, 13-8); MSU Billings (5-7, 12-11); Western Oregon (4-8, 9-11); Northwest Nazarene (4-9, 10-11); Saint Martin’s (3-9, 7-13); Simon Fraser (1-12, 6-15).
Schedules — Thursday night: Central Washington at Seattle Pacific; Northwest Nazarene at MSU Billings; Western Oregon at Simon Fraser; Saint Martin’s at Western Washington.
Saturday night: Central Washington at MSU Billings; Alaska Fairbanks at Alaska Anchorage; Saint Martin’s at Simon Fraser; Western Oregon at Western Washington; Northwest Nazarene at Seattle Pacific.
GNAC standings — women (conference, season): Western Washington (11-1, 17-3); Simon Fraser (10-2, 17-3); Northwest Nazarene (9-3. 17-3); MSU Billings (9-4, 15-6); Seattle Pacific (7-6, 13-8); Alaska Anchorage (6-7, 12-9); Central Washington (4-8, 9-11); Saint Martin’s (4-9, 11-12); Western Oregon (3-10, 8-15); Alaska Fairbanks (0-13, 2-18).
Note: Top six finishers, both men and women, advance to GNAC tournament.
Schedules — Thursday night: Alaska Anchorage at Central Washington, 7 p.m.; Simon Fraser at Seattle Pacific; Alaska Fairbanks at Northwest Nazarene; Western Washington at MSU Billings.
Saturday: Alaska Fairbanks at Central Washington, 7 p.m.; Western Washington at Seattle Pacific; Simon Fraser at MSU Billings; Simon Fraser at MSU Billings; Alaska Anchorage at Northwest Nazarene; Saint Martin’s at Western Oregon.
NWAACC East region — men (region, season); Big Bend (10-1, 21-4); Yakima Valley (7-4, 17-8); Spokane (7-4, 16-8); Blue Mountain (6-5, 12-11); Walla Walla (6-5, 12-11); Treasure Valley (5-6, 11-12); Wenatchee Valley (3-8, 9-15); Columbia Basin (0-11, 1-20).
NWAACC East region — women (region, season): Walla Walla (9-2. 20-3); Columbia Basin (8-3, 12-11); Spokane (7-4, 14-9); Big Bend (6-5, 16-9; Yakima Valley (6-5, 13-11); Blue Mountain (5-6, 10-13); Wenatchee Valley (3-8, 12-12); Treasure Valley (0-11, 1-22).
Note: Top four teams, both men and women, qualify for the NWAACC tournament.
Schedules — Wednesday night (men and women): Columbia Basin at Big Bend; Walla Walla at Spokane.
Friday night: Treasure Valley at Yakima Valley (women 6 p.m., men 8 p.m.); Blue Mountain at Wenatchee Valley.
Saturday: Blue Mountain at Yakima Valley (women at 2 p.m., men at 4 p.m.); Treasure Valley at Wenatchee Valley; Big Bend at Walla Walla; Spokane at Columbia Basin.