Add another classic to the storied men's basketball rivalry between Alaska's two universities. And meet the rivalry's newly minted hero — UAA's Drew Peterson.
The Seawolves and Nanooks waged a fiesty defensive battle Thursday night in front of an Alaska Airlines Center crowd of 1,805, a 76-71 win for a UAA team that fought back from an eight-point deficit in the second half.
Peterson, a 6-foot-4 junior who has seen limited action this season, drained two deep 3-pointers down the stretch and poured in a career-high 14 points to help spark UAA's victory.
The win keeps the Seawolves (19-8 overall, 12-4 conference) in second place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and the Nanooks (16-7, 10-5) in third place. It also gave UAA a sweep of the two-game series with the Nanooks, which could prove important if a tiebreaker is needed between the teams when it's time for the GNAC tournament.
The intensity level was at 11 for this one, no more so than with 72 seconds left when it looked like a brawl might erupt when UAA's Corey Hammell tried to protect the ball from UAF's Travante Williams after Hammell secured a rebound under the Nanooks' basket. The officials called it a double technical and a jump ball, with the Seawolves keeping possession.
Right call, said UAA coach Rusty Osborne said.
"That was two competitors not backing down," he said. "I don't think it was anything malicious."
The play was a microcosm of sorts for the entire game, a back-and-forth affair — 12 lead changes, seven ties — between two rivals who have been amazingly well-matched in recent years.
The game marked the eighth time in 10 meetings a UAA-UAF game has either been decided in overtime or by six points or fewer.
"It was a very high-level college basketball game between two teams who are playing well," Osborne said. "There were 16 total turnovers. In an intense game like that, with a lot of good defense on both ends, to have just eight turnovers apiece talks about the cleanliness of the game."
Brian McGill pumped in a game-high 28 points, Suki Wiggs overcame 2-of-10 shooting in the first half to finish with 20 points and 10 rebounds and Hammell finished with nine points and 15 rebounds for UAA.
The Seawolves played without starter Spencer Svejcar, who wore a back brace to combat back spasms, and Diante Mitchell, who is done for the season after suffering a foot fracture two weeks ago.
That left the Seawolves with a short bench — one that included a very capable shooter and ball-handler in Peterson.
Peterson, who was averaging nine minutes a game, played 32 minutes — the last 1:49 with four fouls — and showed the shooting touch that made him a junior college star last season.
"He's a very accomplished player in his own right," Osborne said. "He's waited his turn and supported his teammates. I'm really happy he was able to show everyone what he can do."
It was Peterson's 3-pointer that gave UAA the lead for good, 57-56, with 6:24 remaining. The shot came after UAA's Wiggs blocked a shot by Williams and it came off a long pass from Brian McGill.
The big bucket triggered a 13-4 run by the Seawolves that left them with a 67-60 lead with 3:28 to go.
But the Nanooks didn't fold. They stayed within six or seven points for the next three minutes and then got two 3-pointers from Bangaly Kaba in a three-second span in the final 30 seconds to cut UAA's lead to 74-71 with 25 seconds left.
UAA fought through the Nanooks' full-court press following Kaba's second triple and got the ball to Peterson, who drew a foul and hit two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 23 seconds left. UAF only got one possession after that, and it ended when Wiggs rebounded a 3-point miss by Kaba.
"When the buzzer sounded, I was relieved," Peterson said. "To hear that buzzer and know that we'd won felt great."
UAF led 33-31 at the half behind 16 points from Williams, a 6-4 senior from Anchorage who played his final season of high school basketball at Sitka's Mt. Edgecumbe.
Williams, who finished with a team-high 22 points, scored 14 seconds into the second half to start a 9-3 run that gave the Nanooks an eight-point lead, 42-34.
Wiggs got hot shortly thereafter. He scored nine points in a span of 3.5 minutes, and his jumper from the top of the key tied the game, 50-50, with just less than 12 minutes left. Two free throws by Hammell at 11:04 gave UAA its first lead since late in the first half.