Westminster repeats its tournament championship
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 03/08/2010 11:19:12 PM MST
By Martin Renzhofer
In 2009, Westminster captured the regular-season Frontier Conference men's basketball championship as well as the league tournament. It was a first for the school.
Westminster repeated the feat Monday night, but its 13th consecutive victory of 2010 wasn't easy.
The No.4-ranked Griffins needed a strong final kick and 22 second-half points from Ben Walker to halt No. 22 Montana Western's upset bid and advance to the NAIA Tournament with a 76-68 victory at Behnken Field House.
Jeramie Hopson, Westminster's lone returning starter, wasn't impressed by the feat.
"They're all the same," said Jeramie Hopson. "Winning is winning."
That's about all the Griffins (26-5) have done lately. While the Griffins' 1-3 start to the season is now ancient history, a new and tougher test awaits.
"This whole season has been special," Westminster coach Tommy Connor said. "We've overachieved. I'm real happy for them."
Although the Griffins would have had an at-large NAIA berth had they lost, Connor knows seeding means everything. He takes his ninth team to the national tournament, which will begin March 17.
"It's all about matchups," he said. "Can we advance? Sure we can. We could also lose in the first round."
Throughout the first half Monday and part of the second, the Griffins didn't play like the team with a 13-1 home record. Their three all-conference performers, Weston Anderson, Blair Prowse and Walker were a combined 5-for-15 from the field and 2-for-6 from the foul line.
Michael Stockton and Tanner Gregory came off the bench to deliver 10 important points. Stockton was also involved in a bizarre ending to the first half that may have lifted the Griffins' sagging spirits.
Down eight with a half-second showing on the clock, Stockton prepared to inbound the ball under his own basket. However, the pass clipped the corner of the backboard and caromed to Gregory. While everyone on the court froze, Gregory buried the jumper.
Prowse finally converted the Griffins' first three-pointer midway through the second half. The three and Hopson's hustle on the offensive glass got Westminster rolling, outscoring the Bulldogs 25-16 the final seven minutes.
"It helped," said Walker, who scored 78 points in the three-game tournament. Connor felt his 6-foot-7 post should have been the league's player of the year.
"He's been leading the way for us," Connor said.
The Frontier Conference's women's basketball champion will be determined today when 9th-ranked Westminster (26-5) plays No. 13 Lewis-Clark (27-5) at 7 p.m. in Behnken Field House.
Westminster advances to its ninth NAIA Tournament under coach Tommy Connor.
» Ben Walker scores 22 points in the second half and 78 in the three-game tournament to lead the Griffins.