Around midnight on the night before Thanksgiving, while much of the city slept, the UAA men's basketball team owned a four-point lead on Division I TCU and was less than two minutes away from winning a first-round Great Alaska Shootout game for the fourth time in the tournament's 36-year history.
By 12:15 a.m., the Horned Frogs had rallied for a 73-70 victory that allowed them to spend Thanksgiving Day being grateful their record doesn't include a loss to a Division II team.
TCU scored the final seven points to beat the Seawolves in a game that began at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday to accommodate CBS Sports Network's tournament coverage.
Hoops-loving insomniacs throughout the country and fans at Sullivan Arena for the late shift probably fell a little bit in love with the Seawolves
They were ridiculously outsized yet kept TCU on the ropes until the final few seconds. They did so with long-range shooting, near-flawless play -- again, until the final few seconds -- and UAA's Shootout staples, heart and gumption.
Fans may conclude that UAA could be very good this season once it starts playing teams its own size. The national television audience may think the Seawolves should feel good about coming so close against a physically and athletically superior team.
Coach Rusty Osborne doesn't want to hear it.
"We're not into moral victories," he said.
It's not enough for Cinderella to go to the ball. The Seawolves were 4-2 in their last six Shootout games coming into the TCU game; they believe they belong at this particular dance.
They proved it against TCU.
"I thought we battled toe to toe," Osborne said.
They battled against a Big 12 team that needed late-game heroics from its two biggest stars to escape.
Amric Fields, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward who is equal parts strength and skill, and Kyan Anderson, a 5-foot-11 junior point guard, generated five points in the final 36 seconds for TCU. During that same span, UAA committed two of its nine turnovers.
Anderson scored a team-high 17 points, hit four of seven 3-pointers and dished nine assists, none more spectacular than the one to Ray Jarvis that redefined the concept of no-look pass. Anderson had his back to Jarvis when he whipped the ball over his head and right to his teammate.
Fields was easily the best player on the court in either of Wednesday's two games, showing surprising range with his shot while flat-out dominating the paint for 16 points. With 10 seconds left, Anderson found Field near the free throw line and Fields powered through for a bank shot and a 71-70 lead, TCU's first lead since the eight-minute mark.
UAA's attempt to reclaim the lead was foiled when Kyle Fossman lost the ball while trying to fight through the Horned Frogs on the way to the basket. Fields drew a foul on the play and sank both free throws for the final margin.
"I thought we did a good job keeping our poise and making the necessary plays down the stretch," TCU coach Trent Johnson said.
The win was the third straight for the Horned Frogs, who will play in Friday's 5:30 p.m. semifinal game against Tulsa. UAA will meet Indiana State in a noon consolation game.
Earlier Wednesday at a luncheon where each of the tournament's eight coaches spoke briefly about their teams, Osborne joked that "we put a bunch of midgets out there ... we have four guys who can really shoot it on the perimeter -- none taller than 6-foot." After the game, he said the Seawolves tried to take advantage of new rules that favor shooters -- a change to the block/charge rule and a crackdown on hand checking.
"With the rule changes this year and the talent we have in the backcourt, we wanted to be the aggressor," he said. "If we're not making 3s, we'd go to the basket."
No one did that better for UAA than 6-foot-2 sophomore Brian McGill, the point guard who transferred from conference rival Western Oregon. He slashed and spun his way to 16 points and made some breathtaking passes for six assists.
The Seawolves, trailing by three, put the ball in McGill's hands with 2.4 seconds left, after the Fields free throws. They in-bounded to him near halfcourt and he launched a running shot that bounced off the rim at the buzzer, coming tantalizingly closer than most desperation shots.
"It looked on line to me," McGill said. "It was kinda a desperation shot (but) I like to think it was going in. I was disappointed when I saw that it came so close."
Three others scored in double figures for the Seawolves. Travis Thompson, the 6-1 Dimond grad who took last season off to stay on track for a demanding civil engineering degree, sank all eight of his free throws to finish with a game-high 19 points; Brad Mears, a 6-9 forward who had limited minutes last season, came off the bench to score 11 points, grab four offensive rebounds and help spark a run that put UAA in the lead; and 6-5 Teancum Stafford, playing bigger than he is, tallied 10 points, five rebounds and three blocks.
Osborne blamed himself for the play that led to Fossman's turnover with 2.4 seconds left. He said he had been unclear about what was supposed to happen on the possession. It was after 12:30 a.m. as he spoke, and he looked tired and dejected.
"We were right there," he said. "We did a good enough job until the end."
TCU (73) – Parrish 4-6 2-2 11; Shepherd 3-11 1-2 7; Anderson 6-11 1-2 17; Gore 2-3 1-1 5; Ray 7-15 1-2 15; Hill 0-2 0-0 0; Williams 1-4 0-0 2; Smith 0-0 0-0 0; Fields 7-13 2-2 16; Montigel 0-0 0-0 0. Totals – 30-65 8-11 73.
UAA (70) – Stafford 4-11 0-0 10; McTier 0-1 1-2 1; McGill 6-14 4-4 16; Thompson 4-12 8-8 19; Fossman 3-11 0-0 7; Leckband 0-1 0-0 0; Lauwers 2-4 0-0 6; Blossom 0-0 0-0 0; Mears 5-8 1-2 11. Totals 24-62 14-16 70.
TCU 40 33 73
UAA 35 35 70
3-point goals – TCU 5-13 (Parrish 1-2, Anderson 4-7, Gore 0-1, Hill 0-1, Williams 0-1, Fields 0-1); UAA 8-22 (Stafford 2-7, Thompson 3-7, Fossman 1-4, Leckband 0-1, Lauwers 2-3). Rebounds – TCU 39 (Shepherd 12); UAA 36 (Mears 7). Total Fouls – TCU 17; UAA 16. Fouled out – none. Assists – TCU 20 (Anderson 9); UAA 12 (McGill 6). Turnovers – TCU 9 (Fields 3); UAA 9 (McGill 3). Blocks – TCU 6 (Shepherd 4); UAA 4 (Stafford 3). Steals – TCU 3 (three with 1); UAA 1 (Lauwers). Officials – Flannery, Zakarian, Corson.
By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News