More than just bragging rights on the line in rivalry

As the postseason begins to peek its head around the corner, the tightly packed Great Northwest Athletic Conference provides all the intensity and excitement that college hoops fans can handle. With only two and a half games separating first-place Saint Martin’s (14-7, 7-3 GNAC) and fourth-place Alaska-Anchorage (14-6, 5-4 GNAC), the remainder of the season already forecasts a heated postseason atmosphere.
For the Seawolves, their upcoming contests against intrastate rival UAF(15-8,6-3 GNAC) will be more important than ever before. With both teams making a strong run for the postseason, the rivalry looks to be more than just a clash for intrastate bragging rights, but also, bringing the Seawolves one step closer to their quest of a GNAC championship and a berth in the NCAA Division II national tournament.
The Seawolves shook off a midseason funk, defeating conference powerhouse St. Martin’s 93-76 on Feb. 3, after a disappointing 73-81 home loss to the struggling Western Oregon Wolves on Feb. 1. The Nanooks, winners of five straight are beginning to find their rhythm and have climbed into second place in the GNAC standings.
With both teams making a strong run for the postseason, this rivalry game looks to be more than just a clash for intrastate bragging rights. It will also bring the winning team one step closer to the NCAA Division II postseason national tournament.
Coaches, players and fans absorb the beauty of a true sports rivalry, and a matchup between the Seawolves and Nanooks always proves to be exactly that. The season series has been split a game apiece the previous three seasons, with each team victorious on their home court. The energy this rivalry creates can surely be witnessed by the raucous crowds it generates at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex and the Carlson Center in Fairbanks – both home to rowdy fan bases.
Former UAA student Barry Piser fully understands the rowdiness of the fans on both sides. Once a face-painted Seawolf fan himself, Piser now finds himself as a Sports Information intern at UAF, where he faithfully watches the Nanooks every week.
The Fairbanks native now finds himself in a difficult predicament, with ties to both teams in a heated rivalry.
“I’ve always had ties to UAF, but I’ve built ties with UAA and a lot of the guys on the team as well, so this will most definitely be a tough one for me,” Piser said.
Piser, along with most fans of this rivalry game, knows that statistics, previous records and even half-time scores can be thrown out the window. Each year, at least one of the games has been decided by three points or fewer. Both teams are packed with sharpshooters and playmakers, but in this rivalry, any player could step up at any moment and provide that extra spark.
“The beauty of a rivalry is that you never know who is going to hurt you on the court. You can look at the stat sheets all you want, but somebody always has a surprise big game in this rivalry,” said Piser.
The star power on both teams cannot be overlooked; both teams contain some of the GNAC’s overall statistical standouts. The Nanooks will bring the GNAC’s leading scorer and rebounder in senior forward Jushay Rockett and dazzling point guard Kenny Barker.
The Seawolves will bring a balanced scoring attack with four players averaging double figures. Senior shooting guard Eric Draper leads the scoring attack followed by junior forwards Carl Arts, McCade Olsen, and big man Joe Davis. Junior point-guard Luke Cooper leads the Alaska-Anchorage attack with a GNAC-leading 8.0 assists per game. Both teams are also full of depth, with capable players that can provide valuable minutes and produce big numbers off the bench.
The Seawolf hopeful are eagerly anticipating the game.
“It’s going to be a packed house. I’m probably going to try and get there an hour or two early,” said Randall Glassman, a longtime Seawolves supporter. All 1,250 seats are expected to fill up early, with minimal standing room. A packed house, with fans from Anchorage and Fairbanks, will provide a well energized platform for the teams.
“I’ve been to every rivalry game since I started attending UAA and have seen some amazing basketball, but I have a feeling this game is going to be much more exciting, with much riding on the line for each squad,” said David Tuttle, a Seawolf fan.
“There is nothing more exciting than a crazy game when the place is full,” fan Javon Christensen said. “All of us students will be screaming our lungs out and yelling at Fairbanks. It’ll be a good show.”
There is no doubt that the Wells Fargo Sports Complex is an intimidating venue for visiting schools. Since its inception in 1977, Seawolf teams have won over 80 percent of their contests in it. The men’s basketball team is 9-2 at home this season, and the women are undefeated at 10-0 at home.
Junior standout Carl Arts appreciates the loyalty of the Alaska-Anchorage fan base.
“It is awesome to have a big fan base,” he said. “No one likes going to games and playing in front of 100 people. It just doesn’t motivate you. When you have a big fan base like we have here on campus, it means a lot to the team. It shows that they (the fans) appreciate our efforts on the court.”
“I’m not going to lie,” said UAA fan Tameika Mitchell. “It is a lot easier to come to the games now that the boys are winning.”
The Seawolves will look to use this game as a spark plug to reenergize their season, which started out with a bang but has seen some recent downfalls. In Arts’ mind, a full crowd will surely help.
“There is nothing liked a packed gym full of rowdy Seawolves,” he said.