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UAA-UAF basketball rivalry resumes Saturday

Jeremy Peters

It's time for UAA and UAF men to add another chapter to their basketball rivalry.

They meet Saturday in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference opener for both teams at the Wells Fargo Sports Complex at 7:30 p.m.

Truthfully, it really isn't much of a rivalry, considering the UAA men have defeated UAF 15 straight times and own a 72-21 all-time record against the Nanooks, but recent results indicate an intensification.

UAA won both of last season's meetings by a combined seven points and UAF nearly beat the Seawolves in Anchorage last spring in front of an animated crowd. UAF led by two points with 48 seconds to play, but the Seawolves came back to win 71-69, breaking a tie for third with UAF in the GNAC standings and clinching a spot in the GNAC tournament.

As the only GNAC teams not to have played a conference game, UAA and UAF are currently tied for fifth.

UAA (5-4) was picked second in the GNAC coaches' preseason poll this season and UAF (4-3) was picked fifth. Three of the Nanook's wins came at home in the Nanooks' GCI Alaska Invitational last month.

UAA is coming off three straight losses to Division I teams in last week's Carrs-Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, marking the first time the Seawolves didn't win at least one game in their own tournament since 2007. It may not be a bad omen, as the Seawolves followed the Shootout with 18 straight wins that season and later made the Final Four.

The Seawolves are playing with a smaller lineup than in recent years, relying on strong guard play, perimeter shooting and limited turnovers. Their 11.4 made 3-pointers per game leads the GNAC, and their 8.9 turnovers per game are the fewest in the league.

Junior guard Travis Thompson, who was named to the Shootout all-tournament team, leads the Seawolves in scoring with an average of 21.1 points per game, the second-highest average in the GNAC. Opponents have to think twice about fouling him, because he has made 45 of 49 free throws, which amounts to 92 percent.

Senior guard Kyle Fossman, junior forward Teancum Stafford and sophomore point guard Brian McGill are all averaging more than 15 points for UAA.

UAF also boasts strong play from the back court, with senior guard Ronnie Baker averaging a team-high 17 points per game to go with an average of five rebounds and three assists. In the front court, senior forward Andrew Kelly is averaging 12 points and seven rebounds and shooting 70 percent from the field.

The size advantage in the paint falls to UAF in the form of 6-foot-11, 265-pound senior center Sergej Pucar, who averages 12 points and five rebounds per game.

After Saturday's game, neither UAA or UAF will play a GNAC game until Jan. 2. They both will host Northland International University for nonconference games in the interim.

UAA and UAF will square off again for the final game of the GNAC regular season on Feb. 27.

Reach Jeremy Peters at jpeters@adn.com or 257-4335.


By JEREMY PETERS
jpeters@adn.com