An unpleasant beginning gave way to a happy ending for the UAA men's basketball team Friday at the Great Alaska Shootout.
In a game where the Seawolves did a lot of things badly, they did just enough good things at the end -- banging in shots that wouldn't fall earlier and making a huge defensive stop in the final seconds -- to pull out a 66-65 victory over UC Riverside at Sullivan Arena.
The victory marked the 29th time in 35 Shootouts that UAA has won at least one tournament game. The only Division II team in an otherwise all-Division I field, the Seawolves are 34-70 all-time in the Shootout heading into the fourth-place game Saturday at 2 p.m.
"We never take anything for granted in this tournament," UAA coach Rusty Osborne said. "We come in trying to win them all but not expecting to win any."
The Seawolves trailed much of the game, shot poorly in the second half (37 percent) and were badly outrebounded (37-28). At least twice UC Riverside threatened to run away with it, jumping to an 12-5 early lead building a 60-50 lead with eight minutes left in the second half.
The Highlanders (1-5) missed six free throws down the stretch and the Seawolves (5-1) got two clutch baskets from sophomore Teancum Stafford, whose 3-pointer gave UAA a 64-61 lead with 2:33 left and his jumper in the lane made it 66-62 with 49.3 seconds left.
The Highlanders narrowed the gap to 66-65 with two free throws by Robert Smith, the team's point guard and its only senior. They got the ball back with 7.9 seconds left on a turnover by UAA freshman point guard Jalen Little, but Chris Harriel's 3-point attempt for Riverside was short and Little came up with the rebound with 1.1 second left.
The Highlanders wanted to go to Smith on the play, coach Jim Wooldridge said, but UAA's defense wouldn't let them.
"We were really surprised he got closed down," Wooldridge said. "We ended up giving it to the wrong guy, but we got a pretty good look at the basket, and that's about as most you can hope for."
Osborne said UAA talked about sandwiching Smith with two defenders during a timeout he called with 7.9 seconds left, after the turnover.
"We pride ourselves on defense," Osborne said. "We had a feeling if we could keep it out of his hands we could take up a few precious seconds. I think it threw 'em off a little."
After Harriel's miss, the Seawolves avoided trouble on the in-bounds play when freshman Christian Leckband threw the ball past midcourt to a streaking Little, who caught up to the ball and held it for the final tick of the clock.
"We just persevered, and that's what you've gotta do sometimes," Osborne said. "Even though it's nice to have (the ball and) the lead on the last possession, it's nice to execute a play and then get a stop."
While the game's final minute worked out according to plan for the Seawolves, the first four minutes were a disaster. It didn't look too bad on the scoreboard -- Riverside 7, UAA 5 -- but the Highlanders had scored five of their points off turnovers and had just gotten a second straight offensive rebound when a ballistic Osborne called a timeout at 16:13.
"Unpleasant," Stafford said of what it was like to be in the huddle.
"You've just gotta take it."
After Riverside expanded the lead to 12-5 on two quick baskets by Harriel, Osborne subbed in Leckband and Abebe Demissie, and the newcomers provided energy and more. Demissie scored two straight baskets, one on a 3-pointer off a feed from Leckband, and Leckband banked in a shot make it a two-point game, 14-12.
Then Little checked in and almost immediately made his presence known.
With the shot clock down to three seconds, he drove the lane for a layup, drew a foul and made the free throw. Then he gave UAA its first lead, 23-21, with a steal and a 3-pointer with 6:05 left in the half.
"Abebe and I decided we were gonna turn up the intensity on defense," Little said of the bench contributions. "That was a big thing with us."
UAA led 37-32 at the half, but started the second half ice-cold, missing its first five shots. Riverside regained control and led by 10 with just under eight minutes to go.
"I felt like we had control of it," Wooldridge said.
But after hitting just five of 18 through the first 12 minutes of the half, the Seawolves finally warmed up. Kyle Fossman and Stafford each got 3-pointers to rattle in, Liam Gibcus scored a hook shot and the team hit three free throws to get within a point, 62-61. They took the lead for good on a difficult 3-pointer by Stafford that made it 64-62 with 2:33 left.
Stafford finished with 10 points and five rebounds, Little and Fossman each scored 14 and Mike MacKelvie added nine. It was an encouraging day for UAA's freshmen -- Little had five assists and just one turnover, Leckband had four points and four rebounds and Collin Spickerman impressed again with his defense around the hoop, officially blocking one shot and altering several others while adding five points.
Chris Patton, a 6-10 center, got going in the second half to furnish Riverside with a game-high 16 points and eight rebound, and Harriel and Austin Quick each added 11.
But the Highlanders were undone at the foul line, where they missed 6 of 9 shots in the final seven minutes. Three times, they missed the front end of bonus shots.
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
UC RIVERSIDE (65) -- Smith 0-5 2-2 2, Fox 3-6 2-6 8, Harriel 5-14 1-3 12, Quick 4-5 1-1 11, Patton 6-14 4-4 16, Guinn 2-5 0-0 4, Jones 2-3 0-0 5, Devenny 0-0 0-1 0, Boddie 3-3 1-1 7. Totals 25-55 11-18 65.
UAA (66) -- MacKelvie 3-5 3-4 9, Lauwers 0-1 0-0 0, Stafford 4-10 0-0 10, Gibcus 2-3 0-0 4, Fossman 4-11 2-2 14, Leckband 2-4 0-0 4, Heard 0-0 0-0 0, Erickson 0-0 0-0 0, Little 4-6 4-5 14, Demissie 2-6 1-2 6, Spickerman 1-6 3-4 5. Totals 22-52 13-17 66.
UC Riverside 32 33 -- 65
UAA 37 29 -- 66
3-point goals -- UCR 4-14 (Smith 0-2, Harriel 1-7, Quick 2-3, Jones 1-2), UAA 9-25 (Lauwers 0-1, Stafford 2-6, Fossman 4-10, Little 2-3, Demissie 1-5). Rebounds -- UCR 37 (Patton 8), UAA 28 (Stafford 5). Total fouls -- UCF 20, UAA 16. Fouled out -- none. Assists -- UCR 16 (Smith 5), UAA 16 (Little 5). Turnovers -- UCR 12 (Patton 3), UAA 10 (Gibcus 4). Steals -- UCR 6 (Harriel 2), UAA 7 (Demissie 3). Blocked shots -- UCR 3, UAA 2. Referees -- Peterson, Corson, Haddad. A -- 4,119 (announced).
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By BETH BRAGG