The Seawolf men’s and women’s basketball teams are set to play in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship tournament held in the Alaska Airlines Center from March 1-3. UAA’s women are co-favorites for the conference title.
The women already clinched their spot in the single-elimination tournament before the end of the regular season. To qualify, the teams had to place among the top six teams in the GNAC regular season standings. The winner of the postseason tournament earns the conference’s automatic berth in the West Region preliminaries of the NCAA Division II Championships.
Kaitlyn Hurley, senior guard and physical education major, will be playing in her final GNAC championships at the Alaska Airlines Center.
“We have great support and great fans, so I’m excited to play in front of our home crowd and show them once again what Seawolf basketball is about,” Hurley said.
The Seawolves have swept the GNAC regular season and tournament titles for the past three years. Now, they are aiming to repeat their sweep for the fourth time straight.
With their victory over Central Washington on Saturday, UAA already claimed a share of this year’s regular-season GNAC title; Northwest Nazarene University became co-champions. It is the ninth conference title for the Seawolves overall.
They are seeded second going into the postseason championships — Northwest Nazarene sits in first. NNU’s record against third-place Seattle Pacific (2-0) broke the tie in favor of the Nighthawks.
The conference tournaments held this week will decide over the final rankings in the NCAA West Region. The top seed in the region gets to host the West Region preliminaries; the winner of the prelims advances to the NCAA Elite Eight.
Even though the Seawolves are aiming for the win, they do not expect the tournament to be easy.
“Our conference is one of the best in the country in Division II. So, no matter what seed a team is, they will all be competitive games,” Hurley said. “I just look forward to playing competitive hoops with my team and have some fun while we’re doing it.”
Winning the tournament is the declared goal of Ryan McCarthy, head coach for the UAA women’s basketball.
“We know that we have a hard road ahead and so we don’t want to get caught up in emotions. We need to stay focused on what our mission is,” McCarthy said in a press conference. “At this point in time, you don’t win games, you take them. I know that every single team that we face has… a goal of winning the championship or beating us or whatever it is, but we need to stay focused and have that killer mentality.”
The men’s team had to secure their spot in the GNAC tournament last minute. They were ranked sixth going into the last week of the season, closely followed by Northwest Nazarene in seventh place.
After UAA’s thrilling victory over UAF on Feb. 20 with a final score of 44-43, the Seawolf men punched their ticket to the championship.
They finished their regular season with a win over Montana State Billings with 59-52. Their victory was once again boosted by D.J. Ursery, who scored 16 points for UAA. The senior currently leads the Seawolves in active scoring, averaging 11.3 points per game.
Head coach Rusty Osborne was pleased with his team’s performance in the last game before the GNAC championships.
“I’m extremely proud of this group and the way that they have battled through adversity and a challenging schedule the last two weeks. We were running on fumes coming into the game,” Osborne said. “This was a great team win… Our defense once again carried us home.”
With this victory, the Seawolves are now tied for fourth place in the regular season standings and enter the tournament seeded fifth.
Western Oregon, ranked first in the West Region, earned the GNAC title, making them favorites for the GNAC championship and the West Region prelims.
The championship begins on March 1 with the quarterfinals. UAA’s men will play No. 4 Seattle Pacific at 2:15 p.m. The Seawolf women advance directly to the semifinals on March 2 where they will face the winner of the match between Seattle Pacific and Simon Fraser at 7:30 p.m.
Tournament passes for all three days cost $30 for adults and $18 for students, seniors and youth; single-game tickets start at $9. For more information on the tournament, visit goseawolves.com.