No moral victories for UAA at Great Alaska Shootout

COMMENTNovember 23, 2011 

With exactly 10 minutes left in the second half Wednesday night, UAA's excellent Division II women's basketball team somehow trailed Miami's excellent Division I team by just six points.

This seemed inexplicable because the Seawolves, who trailed by just two points at halftime of their opener in the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, had committed an astonishing 12 turnovers in the opening 10 minutes of the second half.

Fast forward a couple hours.

With exactly 10 minutes left in the second half, UAA's excellent Division II men's basketball team trailed Murray State by just four points -- the Seawolves closed that gap to just one point 32 seconds later -- despite its eight turnovers to that point in the second half of its season opener.

Turnover sprees rarely have happy endings for the transgressors, and so it was for the home teams inside Sullivan Arena.

UAA's women, ranked No. 7 in Division II, wilted under the full-court press of Miami, ranked No. 7 in Division I, and coughed up 28 turnovers in a 72-55 loss.

UAA's men, ranked No. 17, committed 20 turnovers and lost, 64-62, in a game that didn't seem remotely that close. Credit the Seawolves for going down fighting -- a 3-pointer at the buzzer from Abebe Demissie trimmed the margin -- and the Racers for waking up from their late snooze.

Both Seawolves programs, the only Division II teams in Shootout fields that are otherwise filled with Division I programs, long ago set aside the notion of moral victories.

"It's either victory, or not,'' said UAA women's coach Tim Moser.

Under Moser, the women won four straight Shootouts from 2006-2009 and made it to the championship game last season, and they have qualified for the NCAA Division II tournament five straight years. Today will mark the first time in Moser's tenure they will not play for the Shootout title.

UAA's men, meanwhile, have averaged a win a year in the Thanksgiving week tournament, and under coach Rusty Osborne, who has led them to four NCAA Division II tournaments in the previous six seasons, last season won two of their three Shootout games.

But, as Wednesday proved once again -- and to transfer a boxing maxim from the ring to the hard-court -- it is always difficult to move up in weight class. Moving up brings opponents who are longer and stronger, more athletic, and pack a bigger punch.

The good news for supporters of green and gold: After moving up in class, the little guys are much deadlier when they drop back down to their customary division. That's why what happened to both Seawolves teams Wednesday night should only serve them well come their schedules in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

Both Moser and Osborne in their postgame press conferences hit upon a key point: It's hard in practice to simulate the smothering defenses and athleticism they face from Division I opponents.

Miami, for instance, came out of the break leading by just two points and in the second half threw down a full-court press that rattled the Seawolves, but also served as a testament to how much Hurricanes coach Kate Meier thought of the her opponent.

"It was completely necessary,'' Meier said.

That's because the Seawolves slowed down the game in the first half, took the Hurricanes out of the rhythm and briefly left them out of sorts. Hence, Meier's recap of halftime inside the visitors' room -- "We just called each other out,'' she said.

Moser acknowledged the Seawolves hoped to bring the Hurricanes down to their speed.

"Our game plan was to put everyone in the gym asleep, except for us,'' he said.

But he also knew the Hurricanes in the first half had not unleashed their kill shot, the full-court press.

"We thought they were going to swing for the fence, go for the knockout punch,'' Moser said.

The Hurricanes landed it -- flush. And they received 18 points from Shenise Johnson and 10 apiece from Morgan Stroman and Riquna Williams, plus six points and six rebounds from Anchorage's Sylvia Bullock.

UAA got 10 points each out of Kaylie Robison, Hanna Johansson, Haley Holmstead and Tijera Mathews. And evidence of the Seawolves tenacity came in a 39-33 rebounding advantage.

UAA's men were hurt by poor free-throw shooting -- 7 of 13 -- and by the absence of big man Taylor Rohde for all but four minutes of the first half. Rohde racked two quick fouls, which relegated him to the bench for the remainder of the opening 20 minutes. But he furnished 17 of his team-high 19 points and all six of his rebounds in the second half.

"I think people saw what he's all about in the second half,'' Osborne said.

And guard Steve White delivered 14 points and five assists, with just one turnover, which prompted Osborne to hail him as "just dynamite.''

That's an apt description of Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan, who dropped 17 of his 19 points on the Seawolves in the second half, when he buried six of his seven field goals, including both his 3-pointers.

So while there were no happy endings for either of the Seawolves crews on Wednesday night, they still have more fights left in a heavier class -- the women have a consolation game today and the men have games Friday and Saturday.

Win or lose -- and, remember, the only victory is straight-up victory -- these games carry weight that lasts longer than just this week.

Stay tuned. Chances are the work the Seawolves do this week will pay dividends come March.

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

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