A lot went wrong for the UAA women’s basketball team Saturday evening at the NCAA Division II West Regional tournament in LaJolla, California.
The Seawolves’ leading scorer and rebounder fouled out with more than four minutes to go. Their opponent was a team they had lost to a week earlier. They were getting outrebounded and they were turning over the ball at an alarming rate.
Time for some TNT.
Tara Thompson, a senior guard from Anchorage who gets her nickname from her initials (her middle name is Nicole), provided last-game explosives that carried UAA into the Sweet 16 for the second straight year.
Thompson drilled a nothing-but-net 3-pointer with 85 seconds left and she and Sala Langi each sank a free throw in the final 27 seconds to power the Seawolves to a 69-67 victory over Northwest Nazarene.
The win came in the semifinal round of the West Regional, and it sends UAA (30-2) into Monday night’s championship game. There, it will meet Azusa Pacific, which shocked previously undefeated and tournament host UC San Diego 64-61 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Thompson, a fifth-year senior, poured in a season-high 19 points on 6 of 8 shooting, all of it from behind the 3-point arc.
As a team, UAA was 11 of 18 from 3-point range, an effort that included a 3-of-3 effort from senior Sydni Stallworth (11 points) and a 2-of-2 showing from senior Hannah Wandersee (16 points).
“We only won that game because we went 11 of 18 from the 3-point line,” UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said at a post-game press conference.
“We wanted to outrebound them — that didn’t happen. We wanted to take care of the ball — that didn’t happen. But the one thing I said was ‘get hot,’ and we did and it all worked out. And that’s March, and that’s why it’s special.”
No one was hotter than Thompson, who made the shot of the game with 1 minutes, 25 seconds left.
UAA was clinging to a 64-63 lead when it lost control of the ball but managed to force a jump ball. Yazmeen Goo (4 points, 5 assists) in-bounded the ball in front of UAA’s bench and whipped it all the way across the court to Thompson, who caught it and shot it in one smooth motion. She hit nothing but net to give the Seawolves a 67-63 lead.
“We practiced those plays a lot this week … I had a good feeling that that would go in,” Thompson said.
By then, UAA was playing without either of their centers — Wandersee and sophomore Tennae Voliva had both fouled out.
The final foul by Wandersee, an All-American, came with 4 minutes, 19 seconds remaining and UAA leading 64-57.
Northwest Nazarene (29-3) outscored the Seawolves 10-5 the rest of the way, with the Seawolves’ only points in that stretch coming from Thompson and Langi.
The Nighthawks outrebounded UAA 35-23, benefitted from 21 UAA turnovers and had four players scored in double-figures.
The Seawolves got important minutes down the stretch from freshman Kimani Fernandez-Roy, who was forced to switch from her usual power forward spot to center after Wanderee fouled out.
She finished with a quiet stat line — two points, two rebounds, one block — but she gave UAA the presence it needed under the basket.
“I’m proud of our seniors — they stepped up — but I’m most proud of our freshman (Fernandez-Roy),” Thompson said. “She played the 4-position all season, and both our 5s fouled out, and she came up big time for us.”
UAA is 2-0 in LaJolla — on Friday, it held off Hawaii Pacific 76-69.
A win in Monday’s championship game would send the Seawolves to the Elite Eight, which begins March 26 in Columbus, Ohio.