Seawolves beat rival, earn berth in national tourney

With the postseason on the line, the UAA men’s basketball team and junior forward Carl Arts took care of business at the Patty Center in Fairbanks March 3 with an 85-75 over in-state rival UAF in the regular season finale. UAA, ranked No. 8 in the Division II West Region Poll, maintained their position with their victory over No. 10 ranked UAF and a Western Washington victory over No. 9 ranked Central Washington.

The Nanooks took advantage of a flat Seawolf defense early, taking a 23-12 behind senior guard Jushay Rockett, whose hot hand and dominating offensive rebounding produced big plays and many second chances for UAF. Rockett outclassed his counterpart, Carl Arts, whose poor first half performance netted only two points on 1-for-6 shooting. The Seawolves fought back with crisp passing and efficient offensive possessions and headed to the locker room trailing 30-34.

Arts commanded a strong second half effort that saw a big momentum change for UAA. Arts’s explosive performance and stingy Seawolf defensive play proved to be the difference maker for UAA, who outscored the Nanooks by 14 points in the second half of play. The Valdez native went on a second-half tear, scoring 23 of his team-high 25 points and converting on four straight possessions down the stretch, giving the Seawolves a 76-70 advantage with less than two minutes remaining. With desperation fouls, the Seawolves cemented the victory from the free-throw line, connecting on nine of their final 10 attempts.

The Seawolves shot 60 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from beyond the arc. Arts complemented his 25 points with a game-high eight rebounds.

Senior guard Eric Draper poured in 18, and sophomore forward Ivan Platenik contributed with 15 points. Cooper was the fourth Seawolf in double digits with 10 points. His six assists brought his single-season record to 223. Other keys to the Seawolves’ success were in the battle of the boards and their near-perfect shooting from the free-throw line. UAA out-rebounded UAF, the GNAC’s No. 1 rebounding team, 33-25 and netted 22 of their 24 attempts from the foul line (91.6 percent).

Rockett, the GNAC’s No. 3 scorer and No. 1 rebounder, led the Nanooks with a game-high 32 points and five rebounds. Junior point guard Kenny Barker poured in 24 points, connecting on all five of his free-throw attempts. Like Arts, Rockett single-handedly kept his team in the mix, scoring 21 of his 32 points in the second half.

“He’s a monster. There’s no real way to stop him. He can shoot, he can dribble and he’s strong,” said Platenik, who shared the duty of trying to contain Rockett.

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Although he was a force to be reckoned with for the majority of the game, the Seawolves held him scoreless in the final four minutes.

The victory earned the Seawolves their third playoff appearance in four years and second in three seasons with Rusty Osborne at the helm. It also places them in a third-place tie with Central Washington University in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings. The third-place finish is the highest ever for the Seawolves, who joined the GNAC in 2000. Seattle University won the conference crown and Seattle Pacific University finished in second place. The loss dropped UAF to the fifth spot and ended its bittersweet 2006-2007 season.

The victory also gave UAA its first season sweep of the Nanooks for the first time since the 2001-2002 season and its first win in Fairbanks since the 2001 campaign. The win was huge for the Seawolves, and maybe one of the most memorable in their collegiate careers.

“It’s very satisfying to put it to your in-state rival,” Arts said. “It doesn’t get any sweeter than this. Well, other than winning a national championship.”

And winning a national championship is now in the cross-hairs for the Seawolves.