Alaska hoops fans were treated to an instant classic Friday night at the Alaska Airlines Center, where the University of Washington mounted a 67-64 comeback win against the No. 16 Baylor Bears at the Armed Forces Classic.
Down by their largest deficit of the game with nine minutes left, the Huskies began chipping away at Baylor’s 13-point lead while hundreds of fans dressed in Washington’s purple and gold roared in what felt like a Husky home game.
A huge 3-pointer from junior guard Nahziah Carter knotted the game at 64-64 with 92 seconds left before back-to-back defensive stops and a layup from freshman Isaiah Stewart with 29 seconds left gave the Huskies their first lead since the beginning of the game.
“For us to win this, I had to hit," Carter said. "I was kinda hot this game so I just had to make it go in somehow.”
After another defensive stop and a free throw from Carter with 15 seconds left added the exclamation point to the statement win over the Bears.
The nationally televised matchup, which drew a crowd of 5,117, was the first of the Armed Forces Classic’s doubleheader. In the late game, UAA defeated Coast Guard Academy 88-78.
An event staged by ESPN as part of its Veteran’s Week Initiative, the Armed Forces Classic has featured high-level Division I basketball teams since the inaugural game in 2012 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Thanks to a partnership between ESPN and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Classic brought high-level hoops to Anchorage for the first time since the final Great Alaska Shootout in 2017.
The game was the first between Baylor and Washington since 1955. The Big 12 Conference powerhouse Bears entered the game as the favorites, with a roster featuring key veterans in sophomore Jared Butler and junior Tristan Clark.
The Bears were in command for nearly the entire game, but even with veteran poise on their side, Washington’s talented young guns proved to be too much to handle.
Carter poured in a game-high 23 points for the Huskies to go along with seven rebounds and three steals.
“I knew I had to do something for us to win. We kept saying in our huddles: ’The game’s not over, the game’s not over,’ ” he said.
Washington’s freshmen include some projected lottery picks in next year’s NBA draft, and they were big contributors as well. Jaden McDaniels scored 18 points and helped to mount the Husky comeback and Stewart scored 15, including the clutch, go-ahead layup.
Washington coach Mike Hopkins attributed the win to defense and poise down the stretch.
“I felt on the defensive ended we got comfortable in the zone -- gosh, we had 10 blocks on the game and Isaiah made that huge block when (Baylor) had a dunk," he said. "We made our foul shots down the stretch, which was huge… I’m really proud of the guys.”
Carter, who had never been to Alaska before, thought it would be colder but had high praise for the scenery. He and his teammates may not have had much time to explore Alaska, but they’re happy with the hardware.
“Well, we’re taking home the trophy baby!” Carter said with a smile when asked if he would be taking home any souvenirs.
Jared Clark anchored the Baylor offense with 18 points, and redshirt senior Freddie Gillespie stepped up with a double-double performance to the tune of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Next year’s Armed Forces Classic will be held Nov. 13 at the Marine Corps Base Camp in Lejeune, North Carolina.