The Seawolves fought admirably and played their hearts out Friday afternoon, while Western Kentucky countered with Division I athleticism and a future pro in Courtney Lee.
It was a mismatch, but the UAA men's basketball team hung with the sixth-ranked mid-major team in the country before succumbing 71-67 in consolation action of the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.
The 16th-ranked Division II Seawolves played well enough to excite a midday crowd of about 3,500 at Sullivan Arena and please their coach, Rusty Osborne. They also impressed Western Kentucky, who didn't ice the game until Lee swished two free throws with 12.6 seconds left in the game.
"They're better than some Division I teams we've played for sure," Hilltoppers' coach Darrrin Horn said. "I don't think there is any question they are one of the better Division II teams in the country."
Lee, an explosive 6-foot-5 All-American candidate, saved Western Kentucky (4-1) with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Lee made a living on slashing drives to the rim, utilizing his superior jumping ability to stop on a dime and drop in teardrop jumpers.
"He's good. He's really good," said UAA's Cameron Burney. "We tried our best on him. We were trying to help out with him and take charges, but he has that quick pull-up jumper. He was ready for that."
Besides having a stud like Lee, the visitors from Bowling Green, Ky., also connected on 8 of 16 three-pointers to help them advance to today's fourth-place game. The Seawolves will play for seventh.
UAA (2-2) had no answer for Lee or the long-range bombs -- but still managed to get as close as 67-65 with a late 11-point run behind the stellar inside play of Carl Arts and McCade Olsen, and the outside shooting of Chris Bryant.
"I was very pleased with the way we came out and fought," Osborne said. "We did not fight as hard as we're capable of (in Thursday's 74-47 loss to Texas Tech). I thought we caved pretty early. To come out today and fight like we did against that team, I'm very relieved. We've got a chance to be a pretty good basketball team."
Senior forwards Arts and Olsen combined for 37 points on 13-of-24 shooting. Senior guard Bryant netted 11 points on perfect shooting, 3 for 3 from beyond the arc and 2 for 2 at the foul line. And senior point guard Luke Cooper handed off 10 assists.
Arts scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds, including a beautiful up-and-under post move that got the Seawolves within a deuce with 15.3 seconds left, capping a 13-2 run that nearly erased a 65-52 deficit.
"I think they can hold their heads high on the effort they gave, if they can reflect on what they could do better," said Osborne, who, including his time as an assistant, coached his 50th career Shootout game Friday. "If we would have cut our turnovers down, the way we were executing on offense, it could have been a different ball game."
Indeed. UAA committed 21 turnovers, including seven by Olsen and five by Cooper. The Seawolves were also destroyed on the glass, with Western Kentucky enjoying a 16-6 advantage in offensive rebounds. Those second-chance opportunities doomed UAA.
The Hilltoppers were bigger, stronger and faster, but the Seawolves flubbed some fundamentals.
"I really think we boxed out pretty good, but we didn't go pursue the ball afterwards," Osborne said. "We're putting bodies on people, we've just got to put the next part of that together and just go get the ball. Part of it is the speed of the game. Those guys are quick and they beat us to a few."
Western Kentucky grabbed nine offensive rebounds before UAA snared its first. Still, the Seawolves found a way to outplay the Hilltoppers for much of the first half.
They were at their best during a 16-3 run that led to a 20-13 cushion in the opening nine minutes.
Cooper, one of two Division II playmakers nominated for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard, orchestrated the offensive beautifully with four assists on five plays, including a 30-foot dart to a streaking Olsen for a one-handed slam.
With his double-figure assist total, Cooper became the all-time leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with 604 assists, breaking the previous career mark of 600 set by Kevin Tyner of Western Oregon.
Yet the only number on Cooper's mind was his 10 turnovers over two Shootout games.
"That's way too many," he said. "Last night I didn't come 100 percent prepared. Tonight I knew I had a job to do and had to lead the team if we were gonna be successful. I feel like I did that pretty well. We just couldn't finish it off at the end."
Find assistant sports editor Van Williams online at adn.com/contact/vwilliams or call 257-4335
WESTERN KENTUCKY (71) -- Magley 1-1 0-0 2; Evans 0-2 0-0 0; Brazelton 2-4 2-2 7; Slaughter 4-11 4-5 14; Lee 11-15 4-4 28; Rogers 2-6 0-0 6; Mendez-Valdez 0-3 0-0 0; Siakam 3-9 1-4 7; Walker 0-2 1-4 1; Pettigrew 0-1 1-2 1; Maresca 2-4 0-0 5. Totals: 25-58 13-21 71.
UAA (67) -- Burney 0-3 3-6 3; Olsen 7-12 3-4 17; Arts 6-12 8-8 20; Bryant 3-3 2-2 11; Cooper 1-2 1-2 3; White 2-3 0-0 6; Ridgeway 0-3 0-0 0; Trueman 3-4 1-2 7. Totals: 22-42 18-24 67.
3-point goals -- Western Kentucky 8-16 (Brazelton 1-2, Slaughter 2-3, Lee 2-4, Rogers 2-4, Siakam 0-1, Maresca 1-2); UAA 5-12 (Burney 0-3, Olsen 0-1, Arts 0-2, Bryant 3-3, White 2-2, Ridgeway 0-1). Fouled out -- None. Rebounds -- Western Kentucky 34 (Siakam 9); UAA 25 (Arts 9). Assists -- Western Kentucky 15 (Brazelton 4); UAA 14 (Cooper 10). Total fouls -- Western Kentucky 19; UAA 19. A -- 6,904.
Western Kentucky 34 37 -- 71
UAA29 38 -- 67
By VAN WILLIAMS