Western Oregon’s 30th victory of the season was, by far, the sweetest one yet.
The Wolves, the top-seeded team in the West Regional, held off a fierce UC-San Diego squad on Monday night to become the first team in the nation to advance to the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship Elite 8, set for March 23-26 in Frisco, Tex.
It wasn’t a simple path to success for the Wolves, who finished the season ranked No. 3 in the nation. But it was a familiar one. Leading scorer Andy Avgi, with his hair wrapped tight in a bun atop his head, poured in a game-high 25 points to lead Western Oregon (30-3) to a hard-fought 60-55 victory in front of the home fans in Monmouth, Ore.
Avgi, a burly forward, does most of his damage from distance. He was lethal in pick-and-pop situations once again versus UC-San Diego, which was the No. 2 seed in the West and the nation’s third-best defensive team, allowing 62.6 points per game. Avgi hit 9 of 19 field goals and was perfect at the free throw line on six attempts. He played 34 minutes.
Of course success is nothing new for Avgi. He was named the West Region Player of the Year earlier in the week and also picked up his second consecutive Great Northwest Athletic Conference POY honors. Entering the West Region final, Avgi was averaging 19.8 ppg on 53 percent shooting.
Julian Nichols had 11 points and 10 assists for the Wolves, who were 19 of 20 from the free throw line in the tight win over the Tritons, who fell to 24-8.
The game was tied five times in the latter part of the second half, with UCSD pulling even at 52 at the 2:08 mark on a pair of Adam Klie free throws. Western Oregon stretched the edge to six a minute later when Avgi completed a conventional three-point play.
Drew Dyer scored 22 points to lead UCSD.
Jim Shaw, a former All-American on the court for Western Oregon, is in his first season as coach, following a long, successful stint as the top assistant for Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and two seasons working alongside Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, who peers consider one of the best in college basketball coaching. He also enjoyed a pleasant tenure working for Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma.
The Wolves have won eight games in a row since a loss at Alaska Fairbanks, which ended a one-week run as the nation’s No. 1 team in the NABC Division II coaches poll. It was the first time the Wolves had elevated so highly in the national rankings.
Western Oregon has five players who average in double figures on a potent offense that scores 78 points per game. The Wolves will be a difficult out in the Elite 8.
Author Brian Mull is a freelance writer who covers basketball for NCAA.com.