Last week’s issue covered the men’s team and the x-factors that could decide their season. This week, it’s the women’s turn.
The 2013-14 Seawolf women’s basketball team is facing the ultimate challenge for college athletic programs: replacing star graduates. For the ‘Wolves, it’s guard Sasha King and forward Alysa Horn.
The pair accounted for nearly 30 points per game, which was almost half of the team’s average output last year. They also led the unit in rebounding, assists, blocks, steals, free throws made and three pointers made.
The hole King and Horn left is as big as the stack of GNAC accolades they racked up during their time at UAA. A transition period has commenced.
The next season could go in many directions. But for it to take the ideal path, these are the three pillars that need to be raised.
Burns breaks out
Senior forward Kylie Burns spent the previous year making plays in the shadows of King and Horn. Now she has an opportunity to cast her own.
Burns potential has already been recognized, as she was one of the 15 ball players to land on the GNAC Women’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference Team.
The Kansas City product contributed 10.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game as a junior. In many ways, she was Alysa Horn Lite. The two possess an inside and outside threat, and understand the art of rebounding.
Her most intriguing stat last year was 74 — that’s the number of times she got to the free throw line. It was just four less than King. Like they teach in Basketball 101: A player who can get to the charity stripe often is extremely valuable.
Burns is used to being a part of the first line, and playing big-time minutes. It’s the increased workload that will impact her game. If she breaks out, UAA will have a new star.
More teachings from Basketball 101: The three-point line is the great equalizer. Small schools chop down giants in March thanks to the deep ball. It is one the few things that, when done well, can close the talent gap at a rapid pace.
The Seawolves are going to play teams with stronger rosters. An effective deep attack could be the difference maker they need in those matchups.
Head coach Ryan McCarthy is not behind the curve when it comes to the three-point shot. An open three (especially from the corner) is the second best shot in the game next to a layup. The Seawolves pulled from long-range 643 times last year — that was the second-highest in the GNAC.
With King out of the door, Burns and sophomore guards Jenna Buchanan and Jessica Madison are the most proven distance shooters. They’re three players who could get the green light if McCarthy chooses to give it.
There’s no aversion to letting it fly in this program. It’s not relying on the three-ball; it’s taking advantage of it.
UAA has brought in a group of four freshmen to the team this year. Sierra Afoa and Alysha Devine make up the set of forwards, while Melissa Castle and Kiki Robertson make up the tandem of guards.
Afoa and Devine are both Alaska bred. Afoa played her high school basketball in Anchorage at Dimond, and Devine hooped for Wasilla High School.
Afoa is a lefty who comes from a juggernaut of female hoops. She was on a Dimond team that notched four straight top-four finishes at the 4A State Tournament. She also capped her high school career by winning the Cook Inlet Conference MVP award.
Devine went off in 2012-13. Her 11.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.0 steals and 2.3 assists were good enough to net the Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year award. Like Afoa, she learned to win in high school. Wasilla ended last year at 30-0 and won its third 4A State title in a row.
The ‘Wolves went to the Alaska well for a third time, recruiting Castle all the way from Craig High School. She’s a decorated guard who’s shown up on the big stage, having earned back-to-back 3A All-State Tournament Team selections.
Robertson hails from Honolulu. She’s a scoring guard who can play on the other end just as well. She balanced out up her 19.9 points per game as a junior and 14.6 points per game as a senior by winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2012-13.
The Seawolves could benefit from one of these young guns popping and having a standout rookie campaign. But that’s only a single piece of the puzzle. They’ll need all these pillars to stand in order to produce another winning season.
The women open the season Saturday night against Western New Mexico. Tip is at 4 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Complex.