Tribe-like chants, sweat, blood — it’s definitely not Kansas anymore, Toto. It was the Wells Fargo Sports Complex March 14, 15 and 17 as the Seawolves battled it out, giving their all and taking nothing but the best.
The UAA men’s basketball team took the championship in the West Region semifinals, after waiting 20 years since the last championship game they played in. On March 17, the Seawolves went up against Brigham Young-Hawaii in the championship game and took the gold with a 73-67 win.
“Ken Wagner and Brandyn Akana are two coaches who are good acquaintances of mine, and I was very happy that they got to the regional finals,” head coach Rusty Osborne said. “Now I don’t like them enough that I wanted them to win, but I’m glad that they played well. It was a good game.”
Marking their 29th game win, this game put the Seawolves in the Elite Eight, where they will compete for a national championship.
Although the Seawolves made it through the championship game, the road to victory was a rocky one.
Starting the tournament as top seed, the Seawolves’ first game was up against the University of California San Diego, seeded eighth, on March 14.
Seawolf Olsen McCade had a tremendous game against the UCSD Tritons with 28 points and 4 assists. Carl Arts was close behind with 21 points, recovering after a questionable technical foul given to him when he dunked in the first period.
Triton sophomore guard Jordan Lawley fought hard for the 28 minutes he played, with the team high of 24 points.
Nevertheless, the Seawolves were not going to let their chance at the championship go, coming out of the second half at 80-60.
“I think we were sharp offensively throughout the game, and we turned it around after a lapse in defense in the second half,” Osborne said.
On March 15 the Seawolves came out ready for action, as it was the rematch they had been waiting for against Seattle Pacific University. The last time it matched up against the SPU Falcons, UAA lost 58-65.
Osborne said a couple of his key players had been sick with flu-like symptoms the night before, but that did not stop the Seawolves from keeping the game momentum up to its usual intensity. It did give Osborne a chance to sub in and show off the skills of Kevin White, who played 26 minutes of vigorous defense and put in six points.
After a shaky first half in which the Falcons kept up with the Seawolves all the way, Luke Cooper sparked the Seawolves’ all-around intensity with a stunning defensive play.
After a missed layup by Arts, SPU senior guard Jared Moultrie took the rebound, sending it down the floor to fellow senior Marques Echols. As Echols set up for the three-point shot, Cooper sprinted down from the other end of the court and delivered a fantastic midair block. After Chris Bryant grabbed the rebound, the ball made its way to McCade Olsen, who laid it up for the Seawolves.
“I think it could have been a big difference if Luke wouldn’t have got it or if he wouldn’t have tried as hard and just given up on that play,” Olsen said. “But I don’t know Luke to give up on plays.”
With regulation time running out, the Seawolves trailed the Falcons 54-55 after SPU’s star center Rob Will made a basket with 15 seconds left to go. However, the Seawolves avenged their previous loss to SPU when Will fouled Olsen during an inbounds play. Olsen sank both free throws to win the game, 56-55.
As the sold-out crowd continuously filed into the Wells Fargo Sports Complex on March 17, they began hearing a familiar tribe-like chant from the far side of the bleachers. The Seawolves were preparing both mentally and physically with their pre-game haka, a traditional war dance form originating from the Maori people of New Zealand.
The Seawolves appeared rattled for the first four minutes, when Brigham Young-Hawaii went on an 8-0 run, leaving UAA fans wondering. The Seawolves turned it around quickly after that, coming to lead 15-13 by the 10:30 mark.
From there the teams continued to trade a three-point run here for a four-point run there, until the Seawolves pulled ahead for the final time and kept it there until the end.
The BYU Seasiders never gave up, though, coming within two points with just over a minute left in the game.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for just hanging in there, fighting hard and not losing their heads,” BYU head coach Ken Wagner said.
Although the Seawolves’ Arts missed two foul shots in the final seconds of the game, UAA still managed to hit four more points after that, ending regulation with a 73-69 win over the Seasiders.
The Seasiders’ star forward and Division II West Region All-Tournament Team member Lucas Alves earned a double-double against the Seawolves, with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the March 17 game.
The remainder of the All-Tournament Team was made up BYU’s Paul Peterson and UAA’s Cooper, Arts and McCade.
McCade was the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, hitting a total of 53 points throughout the last three games.
The Seawolves shared a postgame haka with the crowd, making the formation on the court. Junior Jeremiah Trueman, who scored 10 points even after a bloody nose in the first half, led the haka, using the hand and body gestures and a guttural chant.
After the game, Osborne gave well-deserved credit to his bench players.
“Our starters know that they are going to play a majority of the minutes, but they also know that we wouldn’t be as successful without those guys coming off the bench,” he said.
Osborne also commented on BYU’s Cory Nielson, who tucked the ball under his arm in the last couple seconds of the game and applauded UAA and the crowd.
“Cory is a good kid,” he said. “If they’d have come out on top, I would have applauded them also.”
This game was the ultimate rematch after UAA won 95-90 in a double overtime during their first game against BYU in December.
“We’ve talked about it, and home court doesn’t mean anything,” Osborne said. “It doesn’t guarantee anything. You’ve got to go earn it.”