At the beginning of the season, the UAA women's basketball team compiled lists of all their team goals and put them on the front page of their team binders. Saturday night in Lacey, Washington, they added another big check mark to their lists.
The top-seeded Seawolves defeated third-seeded Montana State-Billings 77-57 to win the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship for the second straight year.
"The second time is always sweeter, I can tell you that," UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said. "I'm just really proud of this group for the sacrifices they made in the summer time, to put the work in on their own time. I thought tonight was a good example of that — a good team win."
Despite the final score, UAA struggled early in the championship game. The Yellowjackets (21-10) forced eight UAA turnovers in the first quarter, and the teams ended the quarter tied 17-17.
The Seawolves scored the game's next 10 points, kick-started by treys from seniors Jessica Madison and Jenna Buchanan, but Billings responded by scoring the next seven points. UAA went into halftime up 35-30.
Senior Megan Mullings put UAA up by double figures at 51-40 with a layup midway through the third quarter. From there, UAA steadily expanded its lead.
There was no last-second shot or big run in the final minutes — UAA's depth simply caught up with the Yellowjackets in the second half.
In classic UAA fashion, 10 players scored with five reaching double figures. No UAA player played more than 23 minutes — just over half the game.
The opposite was true for Billings — five players logged 32 minutes or more.
The Seawolves also cut down their turnovers from 15 in the first half to seven in the second.
"I thought our depth was pretty key," McCarthy said. "I thought we did a much better job of taking care of the basketball in the second half. So when we did cause a turnover, we weren't turning over the ball back to them."
Mullings, the GNAC Player of the Year and UAA's leading scorer, struggled with foul trouble for much of the game. She finished with 10 points, but three fouls in the first half limited her to 19 minutes on the court.
But it didn't matter as other players stepped up for UAA.
In her second game since returning from a knee injury, Keiahnna Engel led the Seawolves with 13 points. She filled out the stat line adding two rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.
"Keiahnna made some big plays when we really needed them," McCarthy said. "The game would get close, or they would go on a run, and she would make a play that you really can't coach. We didn't call a set for her, she just decided, 'I'm going to go score.' "
Junior Kiki Robertson finished with five points and nine assists, earning tournament MVP in the process.
Madison added 12 points and four steals the day after spending the morning in the hospital with an illness.
"That kid, she was on her deathbed yesterday, and today she woke up and said 'Coach I feel great,' " McCarthy said of Madison. "This was Jessica's best defensive game. She's not known as one to go get a steal on the ball and she did that tonight. She got two critical steals tonight and turned them into points."
Buchanan hit four 3-pointers for 12 points of her own and Mullings' backup, Dominique Brooks, came off the bench to have her best game of the season.
She finished with five points and six rebounds.
"Dominique played really well," McCarthy said. "That was the best game she's played this season. She was really good on the defensive end."
The Yellowjackets got 17 points from Alisha Breen — the GNAC's second-leading scorer — and Marissa Van Atta, but no other player had more than six.
With the tournament win behind them, the Seawolves (33-2) can look toward the NCAA Division II tournament. The Seawolves will learn Sunday if they will host the NCAA West Region, which begins Friday. The selection show starts at 6 p.m. Sunday on NCAA.com.
"We're excited for wherever the tournament is, we're excited to be back," McCarthy said. "We know what our mission is. I know our ladies have all worked really hard to put themselves in this position."