SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team made program history by solidifying a spot in the NCAA Division II National Championship game last Monday. UAA dismantled the Grand Valley State Lakers 67-47 after shooting a season-high 54.5 percent.
“Well, yesterday [March 21] coach said we should make wide-open layups and we took that to heart and decided to make wide-open layups.” said forward Megan Mullings.
After collecting their 38th victory, UAA now holds the NCAA Div. II single-season record for most wins.
Jessica Madison used her proficient three-point shooting to cash in 14 points, while Alysha Devine used the help of the “sixth man” from the crowd to tally 12 points and six rebounds. Much of Devine’s family and friends made the trek to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to root for the junior.
“I think it definitely helps when you have support out there and it was a lot of fun to have them cheering for us the whole game and just to have that extra player is great.” said Devine.
The Seawolves came out of the gates in a combative full court press that caused the Lakers to cough the ball up nine times in the opening quarter. They play the passing lanes better than anyone, forcing a nation-leading 13.8 steals per game. This disrupted GVSU’s flow, and made them settle for outside shots. Of their first 16 shots, the Lakers shot an ill-advised 13 from behind the arc.
“They took us out of what we wanted to do offensively” said Grand Valley State coach Mike Williams.
Another strength for the Green and Gold is their depth. They had 11 different players step on the hardwood in the first quarter, a strategy head coach Ryan McCarthy often uses. By filtering women in-and-out regularly, he keeps their legs fresh and can throw different looks at the opponent.
Despite having just one total rebound the entire quarter, Grand Valley State was still well within striking distance, trailing 19-12 after the first ten minutes of play.
In the second quarter, the Seawolves ramped up the intensity a few notches higher. Their lockdown defense generated seven missed shots in a row by the Lakers during a drought that stretched over four minutes. UAA capitalized and a Madison trey expanded their lead to 35-21, pressuring the GVSU to call a timeout, but it was too late to cool of the scorching Seawolves.
A 16-0 run that carried over into the second half increased UAA’s lead to 24 points, and they could nearly smell the national title game, which will be held in Indianapolis, Indiana, on April 4.
From then on, the Seawolves ate up clock and turned on cruise control all the way to the finish. Grand Valley State shot an abysmal 31.9 percent from the field, and their regular season leading scorer Kayla Dawson was held to just four points the entire contest.
Although they made it look easy, McCarthy gave credit to the seventh seeded Lakers. Grand Valley State won the national championship in 2005, and beat No. 6 Lews, No. 14 Drury University, and No. 19 Pittsburg State in route to this year’s Final Four arrival.
“We have tremendous respect for them. They are probably as disciplined as a team that we have seen.” McCarthy said.
The Seawolves had previously made the Final Four in 2008 and 2011, but fell short in both games. Aside from Madison, Jenna Buchanan has the longest player tenure in the program. When asks whether she could have imagined appearing in the national title game when she first became a Seawolf, Buchanan said, “Jessica and I were actually on the bench at the end of the game talking about coming from out freshman year where we weren’t the best team in the world to now, and how exciting that is. It is just kind of unreal.”
With one team’s triumphant victory, comes another team’s devastating defeat. Grand Valley State guard Lindsay Baker gave an emotional, heartfelt message to her teammates about what they mean to her following the loss.
“I play with the best group of teammates in the country. We have the best people on our team, not basketball players, people.” said Baker with tears rolling down her face. “I would tell my team that I love you and thank you for the hours and hours and hours of we that we have put in and the trust you have given me to be your teammate.”
UAA still has work to be done, and the work is stacked sky-high. The Seawolves will meet undefeated No.1 Lubbock Christian Chaparrals (34-0) in Indy on April 4. The Lady Chaps lead the nation in both blocks per game, and their average margin of victory is a whopping 28.9 points.
“Offensively they have a lot of weapons. Scoring comes in a lot of different areas for them,” McCarthy said. “To be frank they are the best team in the country until someone beats them.”
There is no question that the continuity of the Seawolves has lifted them to new heights. Their genuine care for their program and the sport has helped give them the opportunity to raise the sought after National Championship trophy.
“We were just talking about in the locker room that we have another week where we get to spend all of our time together and we get to play one more game together doing the thing that all of us absolutely love more than anything else in this world.” said senior Megan Mullings, who is soon to play her final game as a Seawolf.
UAA does not plan on altering their scheme too much for the final showdown, and rightfully so. The Seawolves have run through various squads during the NCAA tournament that began with 64 teams, winning by an average of 20 points.
“We just have to do what we do because it has been really effective so far, “Mullings said. “It is like a dream come true as a senior, you could not image anything better than this opportunity.”
Several Seawolves will don the UAA uniform for the last time next week, but McCarthy views it as a positive, as the experience they gained over the course of their careers will aid them in this final matchup.
“I feel really confident with our seven seniors. They have great leadership and really understand what we are trying to do here as a program,” McCarthy said.
No UAA team has ever won an NCAA championship. The Seawolves will look to bring the trophy to the Last Frontier in a nationally televised event on CBS on April 4 at 11 a.m. ADT.