The UAA men’s basketball team made a strong push toward its goal of winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championship with a 78-69 victory over rival UAF Feb. 7th in front of a sold-out Wells Fargo Sports Complex.
Junior standout Carl Arts led a balanced Seawolves attack with his third double-double of the season, scoring 21 points and pulling down a team-high 11 rebounds. Junior playmaking point guard Luke Cooper scored 13 points and dished out a game-high 8 assists.
The Seawolves held the lead throughout the contest, but the Nanooks kept the margin within single digits all but one minute of the game.
The key GNAC match up put both teams in a two-way tie for third place in the GNAC standings. Prior to the game, UAF was ranked No. 6 in the official NCAA Division II West Region poll, with the Seawolves behind at No. 8. With the victory, the Seawolves rose to the No. 7 spot, and UAF dropped out of the top ten altogether.
Both teams jumped out of the gates early, swapping baskets at each end of the court. After a Luke Cooper steal, the Aussie found a trailing Arts, who threw down a one-handed dunk, bringing the capacity crowd of 1,250 to their feet. The Seawolves stretched the lead to 17-11 with a Cooper three-pointer at the 13:07 mark in the first half. After a media timeout, UAF star forward Jushay Rockett took an inbound pass and threw down a monstrous left-handed dunk, sparking the Nanooks, who later tied the game on a Colin Matteson three-pointer at the 6:45 mark.
The Seawolves led by Arts’s 13-point first-half performance and seven-point efforts by forward Ivan Platenik, and big man Joe Davis took a 37-31 lead into the locker room after a last-second buzzer beater by Eric Draper, his first points of the contest.
The Seawolves refused to let up early in the second half of action, stretching the lead to seven points on a three-pointer by Draper at the 17:43 mark.
With help from the home crowd and a raucous student section, the Seawolves mounted a safe lead after back-to-back baskets by Arts and Davis and key free-throws by Platenik, bringing the lead to ten points with a minute to go. The men in green and gold held off some last minute attempts by the Nanooks, securing a key GNAC victory for UAA. It was an all- around effort for the Seawolves, who had key contributions from Platenik, Davis and junior forward Allen McFarland.
“The crowd was phenomenal,” said Arts. The rowdy Seawolves in the student section, decked out in face and body paint and waving their yellow towels, were vital to the players’ success. “When you have a good crowd behind you, you just play above and beyond your potential,” Arts said.
Frank Ostanik, the Nanooks’ head coach, was disappointed with the performance of his squad. “From the very beginning, we had mental breakdowns,” he said. The mental breakdowns can be traced to the atmosphere created by the Seawolf fans. The loss was huge for the Nanooks, but the victory was that much bigger for the Seawolves, who are now sitting in a better position in the rapidly approaching postseason.
Rockett, arguably one the top players in Division II basketball, proved to be exactly what the scouting report showed. The Division I transfer from Texas State University has lit up the GNAC this season, leading the conference in scoring and rebounding. The Seawolves had difficulty containing the Long Beach, Calif., native who posted game-highs with 24 points and 16 rebounds. The Nanooks also received big game efforts from Lathrop High graduate Mike Titus and forward Kenny Barker, who combined for 30 points.
The rematch of this intrastate rivalry will take place at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks March 3.