Another fight to the finish against a talented Division I team. Another title game decided on the final possession. And at the end of it all, another Shootout championship for the UAA women's basketball team.
The Seawolves captured their fourth consecutive Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout championship Wednesday night at Sullivan Arena, using grit, defense and late-game heroics from point guard Kiki Taylor and center Hanna Johansson to beat Cincinnati of the Big East 49-48.
The victory gives coach Tim Moser an 8-0 record in the Shootout since coming to UAA four seasons ago.
That's 8-0 against NCAA Division I teams, including some truly talented ones, like Syracuse last season and Cincinnati this season. But since Moser's arrival, the Division II Seawolves walk on air every time they exit Sullivan Arena.
"It's about pride for us, to get the win on our home court and in front of our hometown fans," said Nikki Aden, a junior forward who is the only UAA player to be part of the last three Shootout championships.
Those fans were treated to a thriller.
Though Cincinnati (3-2) led by as many as 11 points in the first half, the Seawolves (4-0) rallied to make it a seven-point game at halftime and turned the second half into a back-and-forth game with five lead changes and six ties.
Neither team scored in the final 77 seconds, although each team had chances.
What ultimately what carried the Seawolves in the final minutes were two giant rebounds by Johansson, including a putback that gave her team a 48-46 lead, plus two rebounds and a free throw by Taylor.
That, and lots of defensive pressure.
Cincinnati had the ball with 16 seconds left, trailing 49-48 after Taylor hit the second of two free throws with 77 seconds left.
The Bearcats called a timeout to set up a final shot by their most dependable shooter, Kahla Roudebush. When the teams returned to the court, the Seawolves took their positions and each of them leaned down to slap the court with their palms.
"That lets 'em know we're coming at you," Aden said.
Cincinnati got the ball to Roudebush and she got off a shot, just as planned. But it didn't fall and Taylor -- all 5 feet, 6 inches of her -- managed to grab the rebound. She was fouled on the play and missed her free throw, but it didn't matter that Cincinnati rebounded the miss -- one second was left and the Bearcats needed more than that.
The end was eerily similar to last year's title game, when UAA beat Syracuse 58-57 in a game decided on the final possession.
"I almost had deja vu," said guard Sarah Herrin.
The Seawolves remain in charge of the Shootout in large part because players like Herrin are perfectly content -- eager, even -- to take a charge to help out the team.
UAA's grit yielded five player-control fouls against Cincinnati. The Seawolves took charges with apparent glee, knowing their sacrifices would get them the ball, rattle the Bearcats and rally their teammates.
"I just love taking a charge," said Herrin, who was flattened twice by the Bearcats. "It's a boost for everyone."
Herrin took charges on consecutive possessions in the first half when Cincinnati was threatening to pull away and the Seawolves were indeed in need of a boost.
Aden, Tamar Gruwell and Nicci Miller also took charges in a game where UAA defense ruled the day as it did in Tuesday's win over Coastal Carolina.
UAA finished with nine steals, three by Johansson, and pestered the Bearcats into 19 turnovers and 18 percent shooting in the second half.
"We knew it was coming," Cincinnati coach Jamelle Elliott said of UAA's physical in-your-face defense. "We knew the refs were allowing us to play and I told (the players) to expect it.
The Seawolves didn't use their fullcourt press until the second half -- Moser said he wanted to save something for the second half to deprive Cincinnati from making halftime adjustments. It proved an effective weapon.
"We wanted to control the tempo, but once they pressed us, I felt we got a little intimidated." said Elliott, who added that she'll add press-breaking drills in future practices.
Miller, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led UAA with 15 points and nine rebounds, and Gruwell added 10 points. Both Herrin and Kelsie Gourdin provided sparks off the bench -- Gourdin buried a 3-pointer the first time she touched the ball and Herrin hit a 3 and took the two charges within seconds of entering the game.
Johansson, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, struggled in many aspects -- she traveled several times and put up some questionable long-range shots -- but she flourished at the end.
With the score tied 46-46, she got a tough defensive rebound after Roudebush (11 points) missed a jumper. UAA came downcourt quickly and Aden missed a 3-pointer, but Johansson swooped in from nowhere, covering the width of the lane, to grab the rebound and put the ball in the hoop for a 48-46 lead.
Afterward, Moser said all four of his Shootout championships are special, but No. 4 is especially sweet.
For one thing, it came without All-American center Rebecca Kielpinski, who graduated after leading UAA to three Shootout titles and two Final Fours. And it came with several new players, including Herrin and Gourdin, who were redshirts a year ago.
"People were questioning whether we were going to be a good team this year," Moser said. "They showed heart down the stretch. They're winners."
Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4309.
Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout
Women's Championship Game
UAA 49, Cincinnati 48
CINCINNATI -- Schuster 1-1, 2-2 5, Jones 1-5 0-2 2, Ulis 3-6 1-2 2, Roudebush 2-11 6-8 11, Jacobs 4-9 4-4 14, Sanders 0-1 0-1 0, Stevens 1-2 0-0 2, McClung 3-7 1-4 7. Totals: 15-42 14-23 48.
UAA -- Miller 5-13, 4-5, 15, Aden 1-4 0-0 2, Johansson 1-8 0-0 2, Taylor 3-7 2-5 9, Gruwell 3-9 2-2 10, Stepovich 0-2 0-0 0, McBride 0-1 0-0 0, Herrin 1-2 0-0 3, Gourdin 3-8 0-2 8. Totals: 17-54 8-14 49.
3-pointers -- Cincinnati 4-15 (Jacobs 2-5, Schuster 1-1, Roudebush 1-6, Ulis 0-2, McClung 0-1). UAA 7-25 (Gourdin 2-3, Gruwell 2-8, Herrin 1-2, Taylor 1-3, Miller 1-5, Aden 0-1, Johansson 0-1, Stepovich 0-2). Rebounds -- Cincinnati 39 (Jones 8). UAA 33 (Miller 9). Steals -- Cincinnati 3, UAA 9 (Johansson 3). Blocks -- Cincinnati 1 (Jacobs). UAA 1 (Aden). Turnovers -- Cincinnati 19 (Ulis, Roudebush 5). UAA 13 (Miller 5). Team fouls -- Cincinnati 14. UAA 18. Fouled out -- None. Officials --Daily, Rivera, Lujan.
Cincinnati 31 17 -- 48
UAA 24 25 -- 49
Shootout accolades All-Tournament Team Tamar Gruwell, UAA Carla Jacobs, Cincinnati Sydnei Moss, Western Carolina Kahla Roudebush, Cincinnati Kiki Taylor, UAA Most Outstanding Player Nicci Miller, UAA