FRISCO, Texas _ A 12-point first half lead slowly evaporated for No. 3 seed Western Oregon and with 16:20 left in the game, Saginaw Valley (Mich.) rallied for a one-point lead.
Western Oregon quickly made sure that the top four seeds in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight were going to advance to the semifinals.
The Wolves scored the next nine points and never trailed again in their 81-68 victory Wednesday evening at the Dr. Pepper Arena.
It is the first time in NCAA Division II history that four of the top five teams in the final coaches poll are playing in the semifinals.
Western Oregon, 31-3, will take on No. 2 seed Augustana, 32-2, at 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
Saginaw Valley definitely had the momentum in its favor when it quickly bounced back from a 38-31 deficit early in the second half and took a 39-38 lead. The 8-0 run concluded on a basket by junior Garrett Hall.
Western Oregon answered by scoring the next nine.
“Defensively, we switched to a zone,” said Western Oregon coach Jim Shaw. “Offensively, we re-organized ourselves. We didn’t change anything or do anything different. We just wanted to execute a little bit better on the offensive end. I think the zone took them out of rhythm a little bit.”
Three of those points on offense came on a three-pointer by 6-foot-6 senior forward Andy Avgi.
“I kept telling the team we were fine, and sure enough, we caught fire and we never looked back,” Avgi said.
Avgi poses match-up problems for opposing teams. At 260 pounds, Avgi is built like a defensive end. As tough as he is to guard inside, Avgi is just as dangerous beyond the three-point arc. He finished with a game-high 20 points.
“He is what I call a three-place offensive scorer,” Shaw said. “He can hit them outside with the three, he can hit them in the post and he can hit them at the elbow area. You have to be able to defend three places on the floor. That is a unique matchup in itself.”
Saginaw Valley found out that you can’t just focus on Avgi. When the Wolves extended their lead to 57-45, they were getting offensive contributions from senior Devon Alexander, sophomore Tanner Omlid and sophomore Alex Roth.
“We fouled them and they got three-point plays out of them,” said Saginaw Valley coach Randy Baruth of Western Oregon’s run. “We have two or three terrible possessions on offense and they capitalized on them.”
Several times Saginaw Valley dropped its deficit under 10, but in each of those instances, the Wolves pushed their lead back to 10 or more. And with under 5 minutes left, Western Oregon took complete control on a three-point play by Alexander that made it 68-54.
The game started with Saginaw Valley scoring the first three points and then saw Western Oregon put 15 straight points on the scoreboard. The Wolves led the rest of the first half and went into halftime ahead 36-29.
Everything was working for Western Oregon early on and when Avgi made a three-pointer to make it 12-3, the Wolves were in control. For the rest of the first half, Western Oregon maintained a seven to 10-point lead.
“It is always nice to have that extra cushion, especially at the beginning of the game,” Avgi said. “We know emotions are high. We stuck to it and the outcome was great.”