Sea Lions upset Seawolves in epic NCAA West Regional game

March Madness, commonly used to describe the nationally televised National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Basketball Championship, has several “sister” tournaments organized in the same manner at the Div. II and III levels.

Over the weekend, the UAA women’s basketball team hosted the regional tournament for one of these lesser-publicized, but equally mad, sister tournaments: the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championship.

The tournament, with more than 60 teams competing against one another, is broken up into eight smaller regional championships: south, Atlantic, central, south-central, midwest, southeast, east and west — the winners of which move on to the Elite Eight.

The Seawolf women were not only admitted to the West Regional Championship, they were the hosts. This was due to UAA being seeded No. 1 in its region. Other schools from the region in the tournament were CSU Dominguez Hills, Humboldt State, Hawaii Pacific, Cal Baptist, Seattle Pacific, Cal Poly Pomona and Point Loma.

To begin their championship quest, the UAA women faced off against Point Loma Nazarene University from the sandy shores of San Diego, California, in the quarterfinals last Saturday evening.

Unfortunately, in a “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore”-like realization, the first two minutes of the game looked nothing like a typical regular season game for the Seawolves.

The Seawolves, who outscored teams by an average of 20 points this season, trailed by nearly that margin before scoring their first points in the game.

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From the outset, the hot shooting by the Point Loma Sea Lions shocked the No. 1 team in the country and the 2,518 sports fans packed around the lower bowl of the Alaska Airlines Center.

Madness, yes, madness.

The heavily favored Seawolves continued to trail the Sea Lions for the rest of the game, save for six seconds of the second half, and lost in a 64-63 thriller.

The Seawolves went on a 14-2 run in the last three minutes of the game, capped with a KeKe Wright layup, putting the Seawolves up 63-62 with eight seconds to go. It looked like UAA had just pulled off one of the most unbelievable comebacks in program, if not tournament, history. But it won’t be Wright’s name people will remember. It will be Roya Rustamzada’s.

The freshman Sea Lion star cut through the Seawolves’ defense with time expiring and made a tough layup near the baseline with 2.1 seconds left to give her team the lead back.

Alli Madison air-balled a desperation half-court shot out of the ensuing timeout, and the Seawolves’ stellar season had come to an abrupt and disappointing ending.

“It didn’t come down to Xs and Os. It didn’t come down to whatever tactics,” said head coach Ryan McCarthy after the game. “It came down to shots.”

The Sea Lions shot out of the gate with a 14-0 run, thanks to three quick 3-pointers.

As the first half wore on, fans were able to see traces of the Seawolves team that led the nation in steals, forcing several turnovers. But the Sea Lions still managed to shoot the ball well — really well. They shot 51 percent from the field in the first half and led 36-23.

The Seawolves’ offensive struggles continued in the second half. Despite outscoring the Sea Lions by 14 in the second, UAA never seemed to look in-rhythm offensively.

Then, almost magically, the tide started to turn. With less than four minutes to play, the Seawolves went on a 17-5 run. Like the Sea Lions to begin the game, the Seawolves made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.

Jenna Buchanan’s three with eight seconds to play gave the Seawolves their first lead of the night and sent the Alaska Airlines Center into a tizzy. But the lead was short lived.

Coach McCarthy did not let the loss steal his zeal for his team, school and state.

Upon being asked what he will take away from the season, he paused, slowly nodded and said in a methodical tone, “That I get to coach (pause) at UAA, which I believe to be the best institution in the country, in a state that I believe to be the best state in the country and a group of ladies that I believe to be the best in the country (pause), and I love it all.”

The Sea Lions were eliminated the very next day by Cal Baptist, 73-46. Monday’s outcome in the championship game between Cal Baptist and Cal Poly Pomona was unavailable as of press time. The winner of Monday’s game will have a chance to win the national championship in Sioux Falls, South Dakota March 24-27 at the NCAA Women’s Elite Eight.