A rugged game decided the women's championship of the GCI Great Alaska Shootout, one in which every possession was a battle, nearly every shot was contested and the winner could be better described as a survivor.
Western Kentucky used a decisive size advantage to hold off UAA 62-58 in a Wednesday night dogfight at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The loss was UAA's first of the season, snapping an 11-game winning streak. It won't go on the team's record, though, because the game was an exhibition for the Seawolves.
But the game counted for Western Kentucky, which moved to 3-1 with its two Shootout wins.
Ivy Brown, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, racked up 21 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Hilltoppers.
Megan Mullings supplied 15 points and nine rebounds for the Seawolves, who were frustrated time again by the taller Hilltoppers yet managed to keep it a one- or two-possession game nearly the whole way.
"They play really hard," Brown said. "We watched the first half yesterday and watched some film. They play hard. They're all over the place. They're not going to give up no matter who the team is.
"I think that was the biggest thing -- just matching their intensity."
Less impressed was fourth-year UAA coach Ryan McCarthy, whose teams are 4-0 in first-round Shootout games but 0-4 in championship games.
"We just didn't follow our game plan even remotely close. I was disappointed," he said. "I thought our effort was very B-plus.
"In a championship game against an opponent like Western Kentucky, I expected to come back to our locker room and see some devastated faces. I just felt like we were OK with that result."
The Hilltoppers, who came to Anchorage days after upsetting No. 16 Louisville 71-69, created trouble for UAA with their size and long arms.
They blocked 12 shots -- 6-foot-1 sophomore Tashia Brown had four -- and they disrupted several passes to force a couple of UAA's 10 first-half turnovers.
The Seawolves scored the game's first basket but didn't lead again until Keiahnna Engel drove the lane and split two defenders for a layup and a 28-27 lead with 2:30 left in the first half.
Tara Thompson, a redshirt freshman from Dimond High, sent the Seawolves into the locker room with a 32-31 when she sank a wide-open 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds left.
That was about the only uncontested shot of the night. It was a defensive battle that saw numerous tied-up balls and 33 turnovers, 18 by UAA. The defense meant lots of empty possessions -- Western Kentucky shot 34.4 percent from the field, UAA shot 36.5.
Western Kentucky used nine players, six of them 6-feet or taller and none shorter than 5-10. UAA had the 6-foot Mullings, two others who topped 6 feet but only totaled 13 minutes of playing time and 5-10 Sierra Afoa, who played seven minutes. The remaining eight UAA players ranged from 5-5 to 5-8.
The Hilltoppers got 12 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals from Kendall Noble, a 5-11 guard who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Kayla Smith added 12 points for the winners.
UAA got 12 points and five assists from 5-8 Jenna Buchanan and 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists from 5-7 Engel.
Remarkably, Western Kentucky managed just a slim rebounding advantage, 44-40, although they dominated the boards in the second half, 24-14.
"One of our goals was we needed to scrap out rebounds and box out," he said. "We did not do that (in the second half). Just got outhustled and, really, to Western's credit, they wanted it more than we did, as much as it pains me to say that."
In its effort to guard the Hilltoppers, UAA was called for 22 fouls. Western Kentucky cashed in at the foul line, hitting 17 of 26 free throws. UAA drew 11 fouls and was 5 of 9 from the foul line.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing