UAA women’s basketball stellar season cut short by COVID-19 pandemic

The University of Alaska Anchorage’s women’s basketball team was in Hawaii, getting ready to practice for their March 13 matchup against conference-rival Western Washington, when they heard the news.

The Seawolf Women’s Basketball team’s season may have been cut short, but they capped it off with their 13th-consecutive win and the GNAC crown. Photo courtesy of Seattle Pacific University.

That morning, NCAA President Mark Emmert made the executive decision to cancel all winter and spring championships. Just three days later on March 16, the CEO Board of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference announced the indefinite suspension of all academic competition for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year.

At the time of the news, the Seawolves were having a historic season.

They had just captured their sixth-consecutive GNAC title. They finished conference play with a 19-1 record, just one game shy of tying the program record (20-0 in 2016-17). They had finished their regular season undefeated at home (14-0). Their 13-game winning streak propelled them to a No. 4 national ranking. They earned the No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament’s West Regional Championships.

Seniors Safiiyah Yasin and Yazmeen Goo were having stellar seasons en route to a crack at a national championship.

The Alaska Airlines Center is host to the Seawolves basketball, volleyball and gymnastics and is the central spot where student-athletes train, regardless of which sport they play. Photo courtesy of UAA Athletics

Regardless, the COVID-19 pandemic was in the middle of slowing the world to a halt — the women’s basketball team’s season included.

The stellar senior duo nabbed a bevy of awards this season, but ultimately finished as all-GNAC First Team selections.

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Goo also nabbed All-American Honorable Mention honors while Yasin’s 26 points against Western Washington on March 7 during the GNAC championship earned her tournament MVP honors.

“I was kind of shocked, and then I was kinda mad that my senior season was taken away without even getting [the opportunity] to try and attain the rest of my goals,” Yasin said. “We really wanted to make it out of the West Region this year and we thought this, out of all of the years, was going to be the one.”

The night Yasin and her team received the news, she and Goo took a flight to Anchorage to pack up their belongings to return home to California, she said.

Head coach Ryan McCarthy, who nabbed regional Coach of the Year for the fourth time in six seasons, expressed how tough it was to deliver the grave news to his team that day in Hawaii.

“Initially, we were supposed to play the games without fans and then, in one day, that changed — and we were told the NCAA tournament at all levels had been canceled. It was pretty devastating news to deliver. The ladies had worked so hard and come from all over the United States to have the opportunity to compete for a National Championship,” McCarthy said. “You only get four years to do so. So for the seniors, it was an instant heartbreak.”

Despite their seasons coming to a disappointing end, Goo and Yasin left their mark as some of UAA women’s basketball’s best ever.

Yasin finished her senior campaign as an absolute juggernaut as the fifth-leading scorer in the GNAC this season (15.0 points per game), and a top-10 leader in steals per game (2.0), 3-point percentage (.412) and free-throw percentage (.796).

Goo etched her mark in the record books as one of the program’s brightest stars, finishing her career ranked third in total assists (450), fourth in total steals (270) and tying seventh for total wins (103).

In a heartfelt letter McCarthy left to Goo and Yasin on Twitter, he expressed his pride in the both of them.

“In a way, we took a chance on each other, but what I respect most is you chose to give up everything to come to Alaska,” McCarthy wrote. “I’m most proud of the leaders you have become, and regardless of how [the 2019-20 season] is remembered, you finished as champions.”