Moser leads UAA with zen-like calm

November 26, 2008 

Just 1.7 seconds remained Wednesday night, UAA led by one point and Rebecca Kielpinski nestled the basketball in her hands as she prepared to inbound from the baseline near Syracuse's basket.

UAA women's coach Tim Moser calls Kielpinski the Seawolves' smartest player, so he had his bases covered there. Give the rock to the All-American center and trust in her size and decision-making to help UAA seize a third straight Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout championship.

Appointed to catch the ball was Nicci Miller, the junior forward Moser calls his strongest player. Again, bases covered -- Moser figured Miller would gain possession, if not by sheer strength then by virtue of her will.

One problem: Moser was shouting instructions to Kielpinski from the far bench, but she couldn't hear over the roar of the crowd at Sullivan Arena.

Enter Miller. She ran from near half-court to Kielpinski's station on the baseline to relay the message.

"It was just something simple -- 'If you don't have the pass, throw it toward our basket,' '' Miller recounted.

Then Syracuse sent in 6-foot-3 center Lina Lisnere to defend Kielpinski's pass.

Again, Miller, who had returned to near half-court, raced to the baseline and spoke into Kielpinski's ear.

"Just get it inbounds,'' Miller instructed.

Miller said she tried to keep her words soothing.

"To keep it calm,'' she said. "Because it's important to keep it calm in a time of chaos.''

Meanwhile, Kielpinski rolled through her mental checklist: Keep steady feet because in that situation she was not allowed to run the baseline. Stay safely back from the baseline to avoid stepping on it and turning the ball over. Keep an eye on cutting teammates Jackie Thiel and Kiki Taylor in case Miller was blanketed. And definitely get the ball in, and definitely in a direction away from Syracuse's basket.

The whistle blew, Miller made a fake, then busted up the sideline toward Kielpinski. Kielpinski delivered a pass that Miller secured in her hands and held to her body -- "She wasn't going to give it up,'' Moser said -- the horn blew, and the Seawolves celebrated.

Again.

UAA 58, Syracuse 57.

And Moser finally had a reply to the question he asked his players at their shoot around just past noon Wednesday: "What are you guys made of?''

Answer: Stern stuff.

The question, Miller said, fired her up.

"You have to dig in and truly answer it,'' she said. "Am I going to go in there and be afraid? Or am I going to accept that challenge?''

Evidently, the latter.

"That question really helped us come together,'' said Kielpinski, who led UAA with 16 points and nine rebounds.

Confronted by Syracuse's relentless and remarkably quick trapping in both backcourt and frontcourt, the Seawolves (7-1) cracked, but did not crumble.

Staggered by Erica Morrow's game-high 24 points and Chandrea Jones' 21, the Seawolves limited the rest of the Orange crew to 12 points.

Down by 10 points just six minutes into the game, the Division II Seawolves didn't wither before their Division I opponent from the Big East Conference. Nor did they blink when they turned the ball over on their first three possessions of the second half, which allowed opportunistic Syracuse to take a 32-28 lead. Nor when Syracuse moved ahead 50-48 with seven-plus minutes to go.

The Seawolves take their cues from Moser, who is almost always composed as he alternately stands or crouches in front of his bench. Standing, he often simply crosses his arms in front of him. Crouching, he'll clasp his hands together. No rants. No histrionics.

"His demeanor -- he keeps us calm, and because he's our leader, we feed off him,'' Miller said.

By the standards of many basketball coaches -- yelling, theatrical arm waving, alternately berating officials and pleading with them -- Moser is practically Zen. That's by design.

"We're in battle,'' he said. "I want a clear head.''

In his third season at UAA, all Moser has done is win. He guided the Seawolves to the Final Four last season, when they went 30-5. His UAA record stands at 60-12. And his current team is ranked No. 9 in the nation, a standing that should improve with the next poll.

More good times appear ahead.

Wednesday night, though, the Seawolves savored the moment.

As they celebrated on the court, posed for team pictures, conducted interviews and, finally, cut down the net cords, Moser mostly stood off to the side, smiling.

Amid a different kind of chaos, calm remained.

And reigned.


This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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