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UAA women's basketball team captures West Region title

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published March 14, 2016

If you watched the game and if you saw the stat sheet, you know the Seawolves are the West Region champions because of their stifling defense, their superior rebounding and their talented bench Monday night.

The UAA women's basketball team claimed its fourth region title in school history, and its first since Ryan McCarthy became coach, by overpowering UC San Diego 72-57 in the championship game in Azusa, California.

Defensively, the Seawolves held UCSD to nine points in the third quarter and to 18 points through 18 minutes of the first half. They blocked seven shots and limited leading scorer Farrah Shokoor to seven field-goal attempts.

On the boards, they crushed the Tritons 45-19, grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to extend several possessions and held UCSD to five offensive rebounds.

And they used their depth to wear down their opponent, outscoring UC San Diego's bench 29-10 and getting double-digit minutes from nine players.

What you didn't see during the game or on the stat sheet is the fuel that lit the fire during UAA's three-game run through the West Region tournament.

This was one motivated bunch.

The Seawolves were stung by being overlooked by the NCAA when it came time to choose a site for the tournament.

And they remember all too well what happened last season, when they entered the region tournament with the homecourt advantage and the No. 1 ranking in Division II, only to suffer a stunning first-round defeat.

"It was heartbreaking and devastating what happened last year," senior Megan Mullings said in a postgame press conference. "In that locker room that day we lost two just really amazing seniors and we looked at each other and we're like, 'This never happens again. We never feel this way ever, ever again.'

"When things get tough we go back to that place, because not a lot of teams have that dark place they can go back to and say, 'I've been here, I know what this is gonna feel like if we lose this game.' And we refuse to let that happen. So we just use that … as our chip on our shoulder to keep pushing forward, to keep winning games."

As if that wasn't enough to spur the Seawolves, having to go to California stoked the fire even more.

UAA, the No. 1 team in the West Region all season, dropped to the No. 2 spot in the final week of the regular season — after winning two games to capture the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title.

And so instead of hosting the tournament and playing in front of large crowds at the Alaska Airlines Center, they headed to Azusa with a point to prove.

"That was literally the best thing that could have happened to us," McCarthy said. "When it happened I was disappointed. The first thing I did was look at the players. I know when they're angry, and they were not happy. I thought, 'OK, you just gave us the chip on our shoulder that we needed

"Our goal was to host and when you don't reach that goal and you feel it's unjust — oh man, it lit a fire. They were coming in and doing workouts on their own. We're in March, and they're doing stuff you do in preseason."

The Seawolves (36-2) got off to a somewhat rocky start Monday. They committed eight turnovers in the first quarter — many of them unforced — and trailed 16-15 after 10 minutes.

They got a huge boost early in the second quarter when they capitalized on a turnover by the Tritons (26-5) to drain back-to-back 3-pointers.

In an 18-second span, Keiahnna Engel hit a triple, Jessica Madison got a steal and Alysha Devine hit another triple to give UAA a 24-19 lead at the 7:25 mark.

The Seawolves built their lead to 31-23 before UC San Diego came back with eight straight points to tie it 31-31. UAA closed the half with a traditional three-point play by Engel and a 3-pointer by Tara Thompson to lead 37-31 at the half.

And then mayhem ensued.

Mayhem is the word on the back of UAA's warmups, and they created quite a bit of it in the third quarter to grab a 55-40 lead. The Seawolves reeled off 12 straight points at one point and met their goal of holding the Tritons to 10 points or fewer in the quarter.

"Our edge," Devine said, "is to work just out of our minds and to have that bench where we can just keep coming at people, just keep coming at people.

"Our motto mayhem is just that we just never stop, just keep going at people."

Devine, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, had team highs of 14 points and eight rebounds Monday.

Engel and Madison each added 13 points. Mullings, double-teamed much of the game, was held to three points but came through with four blocks, five rebounds and three steals.

The Seawolves are scheduled to return to Anchorage at 4 a.m. Wednesday, and soon after they'll head to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the Elite Eight.

They play Francis Marion, the Southeast Region champions, in a national quarterfinal game March 22.

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