As the UC Irvine basketball team warmed up before Saturday's seventh-place game against UAA in the Great Alaska Shootout, guard Daman Starring asked a question:
"What's a Seawolf?"
Forty minutes of basketball later, he had his answer:
It's one of many charge-taking, turnover-forcing, free-throw-hitting Division II players who sent the Anteaters home hungry by coming from behind for a 77-63 victory at Sullivan Arena.
UAA may bear the nickname of a mythological creature, but the Seawolves were the real deal on the final day of the Shootout.
After a slow start, they played with sustained energy not yet seen to pick up their first win of the season and avoid becoming just the seventh team in school history to leave the 34-year-old tournament without a win over a Division I foe.
Taylor Rohde, a 6-foot-9 preseason All-American, sank 16 of 18 free throws -- missing the school record by one -- for a tournament-high 28 points. He was one of four Seawolves to score in double figures, one of six to get a steal and one of at least that many who drew fouls, many of them while playing defense to take the ball out of the Anteaters' hands.
"They beat us by drawing charges," Irvine coach Russell Turner said. "That's a well-coached and awfully committed team."
Rohde, who transfered from Division I Arizona State last season, took two offensive charges and drew six shooting fouls in the first half alone.
"It's a hard thing to do," he said of taking charges, "and we work on it every day in practice."
The Anteaters (0-6) went to the boards hard, especially early -- in the first four minutes, they grabbed seven offensive rebounds and on one possession got off four shots -- and they packed the paint defensively against Rohde.
"The whole tournament I've been dealing with double-team stuff. You just go to the basket hard and try to draw contact," Rohde said.
By drawing so much defensive attention, Rohde helped free up UAA's perimeter shooters, who missed some open looks but still buried 9 of 22 of their 3-pointers.
Abebe Demissie, who came off the bench for 13 points and nine rebounds, hit two early when the Anteaters of the Big West Conference threatened to run away with it by building leads of 7-0, 10-2 and 19-10.
In the second half, Colton Lauwers drilled a deep 3-pointer, his only bucket of the game, to tie the score 52-52 and trigger an 11-4 run that included 3s by Travis Thompson (13 points and 3-of-6 shooting beyond the arc) and Lonnie Ridgeway (11 points and one electrifying block during the run).
Ridgeway's block was one of just two for UAA, which had six shots rejected by Irvine.
"We aren't going to lead the nation in blocks, but if we can we want to step in and take some charges and limit their desire to penetrate," UAA coach Rusty Osborne said. "It takes a bunch of guys willing to do it."
Phillip Hearn is one of those willing to put in a hard-nosed effort; in the first half, he turned in two straight Irvine possessions, first forcing a turnover and then drawing a foul. After getting his team the ball back the second time, he drew a foul while driving to the basket and hit both of his free throws to tie the game 33-33.
That was just a preview to a span in the second half when Irvine turned the ball over on seven straight possessions and the Seawolves turned a 52-49 deficit into a 57-52 lead with 11 minutes, 34 seconds to go.
UAA forced five of the turnovers -- one by committee, two by virtue of steals by Thompson and Steve White, one when Irvine dribbled out of bounds after a block by Rohde and another when Demissie tied up the ball with the possession arrow in UAA's favor. The Seawolves capitalized on three of the seven turnovers
"We got into a rhythm there defensive," Osborne said.
UAA outscored the Anteaters 35-19 in the second half behind a defense that held Irvine to 29.2 percent shooting.
The Anteaters -- the youngest team in Division I basketball, with four freshmen and one sophomore logging double-figure minutes Saturday -- narrowed the gap to 60-59 on sophomore Chis McNealy's 3-pointer at 10:08 and later trailed 64-61 after a pair of free throws by Starring (21 points with 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.
But the Seawolves scored 13 of the final 15 points for the win, with Demissie providing some flash by flying through the lane to put back a 3-point miss by Thompson to make it 66-61.
UAA is 1-2 after three straight Shootout games and plays another three games this week beginning Thursday with a nonconference game against Minot State at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. The Seawolves host the two-day AT&T Jamboree Friday and Saturday, a tournament featuring Minot State, Portland Bible and a UAF team that Friday night in Hawaii lost on a 3-pointer at the buzzer, 66-65, to third-ranked BYU-Hawaii.
Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn,com or 257-4335.
UC IRVINE (63) -- Starring 6-10 5-5 21; Davis II 4-8 1-1 9; Flowers 3-5 1-3 9; McNealy 3-10 1-1 8; Wilder 2-7 0-0 6; Folker 2-5 0-0 4; Woods 1-5 1-4 3; Wright 1-5 1-2 3; Best 0-1 0-0 0; Souza 0-1 0-0 0; Bradley 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-59 10-16 63.
UAA (77) -- Rohde 6-15 16-18 28; Demissie 4-6 2-4 13; Thompson 4-9 2-2 13; Ridgeway 5-8 0-3 11; Fossman 2-4 0-0 5; Hearn 1-2 2-2 4; Lauwers 1-5 0-0 3; Gibcus 0-0 0-0 0; Weitzel 0-0 0-0 0; Jackson 0-2 0-0 0; White 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 23-54 22-29 77.
UC Irvine 44 19 -- 63
UAA 42 35 -- 77
3-point goals -- UC Irvine 9-25 (Starring 4-6; Flowers 2-4; Wilder 2-7; McNealy 1-3; Wright 0-1; Best 0-1; Woods 0-3), UAA 9-22 (Demissie 3-5; Thompson 3-6; Lauwers 1-3; Ridgeway 1-3; Fossman 1-2; Jackson 0-1; White 0-1; Hearn 0-1). Total Fouls -- UC Irvine 27, UAA 22. Fouled out -- UC Irvine, McNealy; UAA, none. Rebounds -- UC Irvine 35 (McNealy 8), UAA 33 (Rohde 12). Assists -- UC Irvine 13 (Wilder 4), UAA 17 (Thompson 4). Blocks -- UC Irvine 6; UAA 2. Steals -- UC Irvine 5 (Starring 2); UAA 10 (Thompson 4). Officials -- Cota, Corson, Nelson.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News