The UAA men’s basketball team seemed poised to pull off the improbable upset over nationally ranked No. 4 Humboldt State in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Tournament. Riding a phenomenal first-half performance by junior forward Carl Arts, the Seawolves took a 38-33 lead into the locker room. After a hip-pointer injury rendered Arts out late in the first half, UAA marched with terrific bench play and stingy defense and controlled most of the second half.
A raucous home crowd in Arcata, Calif., watched as the Seawolves took a 61-59 lead in the final minutes on consecutive Buddy Bailey layups, but then an uncharacteristic Luke Cooper turnover allowed the Lumberjacks to tie the game at 61. Two Will Sheufelt free throws gave HSU the lead, a lead they would not surrender. They won 68-61.
The injury to Arts was damaging to the Seawolves. The 6-foot-6-inch forward went 9-for-11 from the field, scoring 21 points in the game’s first 20 minutes, before being forced to sit out the remainder of the game. Already wearing a protective face mask from a facial injury suffered two weeks ago, Arts could only watch from the bench with an ice bag attached to his hip.
The Seawolves, the last team to knock off Humboldt State at home with a 98-78 victory last season, battled their way into a position to pull off another upset. But the top-seeded Lumberjacks took over at the right time, preventing UAA from winning its first playoff game since the 1992-93 campaign.
The Seawolves were led by Arts’ 21 points and received a good effort from the bench. Senior guard Eric Draper was the only other Seawolf to score in the double digits, scoring 10 points. Cameron Burney and Buddy Bailey took advantage of the extra minutes, each chipping in with nine points. Junior-transfer forward McCade Olsen scored seven points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds. Cooper, who had a game-high seven assists, had an uncharacteristic five turnovers, including the two pivotal ones late that led to consecutive Lumberjack scores. Cooper was also held scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting.
Humboldt State was led by Devin Peal’s 19 points and the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s Most Valuable Player, Kevin Johnson, who scored 11 and pulled down a game-high 12 boards. Jeremiah Ward also contributed with 12 points.
In a season that seemed to be more promising than years past, the ending was far too familiar. For the second consecutive year, the Seawolves’ season ended with an opening-round loss in the NCAA Division II Tournament West Regional. Despite ending on a sour note, this season had its share of high points. The Seawolves defeated Division I Missouri-Kansas City 77-70 in the second round of the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, in a game where Luke Cooper broke the single-game Shootout record with 16 assists. Arts was also named to the All-Shootout-Tournament Team. Immediately after the Great Alaska Shootout, they won the Glacier Classic in Fairbanks and one week later won their own AT&T Alascom Jamboree, and for the first time since 2001, the Seawolves swept in-state rivals UAF.
On a sadder note, UAA will bid farewell to senior sharp-shooting guards Eric Draper of Memphis, Tenn., and Buddy Bailey of Wasilla.
Draper, who led the Seawolves in scoring early in the season, contributed big baskets all season. Bailey, who transferred to UAA for his final season, proved to be as much of an inspiration to his teammates as he was a threat with a basketball in his hands.
Arts led the Seawolves in scoring the season – averaging 15.5 per game. Eric Draper was close behind with 14.1 ppg, and McCade Olsen was the only other Seawolf averaging double-digits with 11.1 ppg. Arts also led the Seawolves in rebounding with 6.9 rebounds per game, followed by Olsen’s 4.3 rebounds per game. Cooper led the GNAC with 230 assists at a rate of 8.2 per game. His 230 assists shattered the record of UAA play-by-play announcer Bryan Anderson’s mark of 200 in the 1993-94 season. Cooper also led UAA with 1.5 steals per game.
The Seawolves also saw an increase in attendance this season, nearly selling out every home contest with an average of 1,956 fans per game. The home crowd helped UAA to a 12-5 home record, 7-3 against conference foes.