The quest for a GNAC championship just became a little more difficult for the UAA men’s basketball team. The Seawolves (17-7, 8-5 GNAC) dropped a pivotal GNAC matchup Thursday, Feb. 15, to the Seattle University Redhawks 66-69 (15-8, 7-5 GNAC), putting the team in a must-win situation for the Saturday, Feb. 17, game against the Western Washington Vikings (9-13, 3-9 GNAC). Although the Seawolves struggled against the strong post-play of the Redhawks, the team rebounded to a 77-61 victory over the Vikings in front of a sellout crowd in the last home contest of the season, thanks to huge efforts from the junior forward duo of Carl Arts and McCade Olsen.
Thursday night’s game was close throughout, but the Seawolves failed to match clutch baskets with the Redhawks during the stretch, which extended the lead to 67-63 with 30 seconds remaining. Senior guard Eric Draper, who scored a game-high 22 points, connected on a long three-pointer with 10 seconds left, to cut the deficit to one. But an uncharacteristic Seawolf foul in the final seconds led to two Ryan Webb free-throws that once again brought the margin to three.
The Seawolves got the ball into Draper’s hands, but a last-second three-point attempt rolled off the rim, cementing the victory for the Redhawks and delivering a crushing blow to the Seawolves’ playoff picture.
Arts was the only other Seawolf in double-digits, scoring 11 points while also pulling down a game-high eight rebounds. Leigh Swanson led the Redhawks with 16 points.
The Arts and Olsen show proved to be too much for the Vikings to handle on Saturday night. A 25-point, 12-rebound performance by Arts and 23 points from Olsen led the Seawolves to take a one-point halftime lead and not look back. UAA jumped out of the gates with a 15-2 run, bringing its lead to 44-30 at the 11:38 mark. UAA would hold a double-digit lead for the remainder of the game, en route to the key GNAC victory.
Arts’ 25 points (8-17 FG, 9-9 FT) was a game-high and his 12 rebounds a season-high for the Seawolves. Junior guard Luke Cooper led UAA with 11 assists. Olsen, who found himself in the starting lineup for the first time as a Seawolf, bounced back from a scoring slump, connecting on 10 of his 15 attempts from the field. Head coach Rusty Osborne was happy with their performance.
“Carl and McCade came up big. It was a really good one-two punch tonight,” he said in a postgame television interview.
Senior guards Eric Draper and Buddy Bailey, playing in their last home game in Seawolf colors, each contributed six points, with Bailey also dishing out five assists. Draper, in his second season with UAA, and Bailey, in his first, have both made their marks on the court and with their team.
“They’re great kids and they have done a lot for this program,” Osborne said.
Cooper added another milestone to his record-breaking season, setting the new UAA single-season assist record. His final assist brought his season total to 201, surpassing Seawolf radio analyst Bryan Anderson’s 1993-94 mark of 200.
The weekend split coupled with an Alaska sweep by Seattle University – who defeated UAF 60-58 Saturday night – allow the Seawolves a small margin for error in the team’s three remaining regular-season games. All three of the games, which will take place on the road, will control the fate of the Seawolves’ postseason hopes.
Osborne knows the Seawolf team holds its own key to the postseason.
“We don’t have to rely on anyone else. If we’re going to get it done, it’s going to be because of ourselves. That’s all you can really ask for in competition . to be able to control your own destiny.”
Osborne hopes that destiny will have the Seawolves making another trip to the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
In order to accomplish the team’s preseason goals of winning a conference championship and making the playoffs, the Seawolves need to find a way to win conference games on the road. The team has already dropped two of its five road-conference contests this season.
“We really need to get at least two of them to get into the tournament,” Osborne said. “Three would get us the conference championship, but we’ve got to find a way to get at least two of them.”
Osborne said it would be nice to take care of business and get the playoff situation taken care of with two wins against Central Washington University on Feb. 22 and Seattle Pacific University on Feb. 24, and then worry about the conference championship when the Seawolves head upstate to play intrastate rival UAF in the regular-season finale Mar. 3.