A buzzer-beating 3-pointer ended the UAA women’s basketball season Monday night in LaJolla, California.
The shot – well-defended and launched in desperation from beyond the 3-point arc – lifted Asuza Pacific to a 65-63 victory over the Seawolves in the championship game of the NCAA Division II West Regional tournament.
The Seawolves ended the season with a 30-3 record.
Asuza Pacific freshman Lydia Nieto barely beat the buzzer with her game-winning prayer, which sends her team to the Elite Eight next week in Columbus, Ohio.
The shot came a little more than three seconds after UAA senior Tara Thompson put the Seawolves ahead for the first time in the fourth quarter, 63-62, with a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3.2 seconds on the clock.
“We hit a shot that gave us a chance to win, and that’s all really you can ask for,” UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said at the post-game press conference. “If there was any shot you’re going to lose on, I’d rather lose on that than they draw up some wizard play and get a layup. If they hit a Hail Mary, then God bless ‘em and you’ve got to move on.”
The Seawolves will have to move on without four players whose college careers are over. Among them are two who have been with the team for five seasons -- Hannah Wandersee, a center from Kodiak, and Thompson, a guard from Anchorage. Kian McNair and Sydni Stallworth joined the program last season as junior college transfers.
Wandersee went out with the kind of game that has earned her national and regional accolades as a junior and senior. She scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting and added nine rebounds, two assists and one steal in 35 minutes.
Thompson, a long-range shooter coming off one of her best shooting displays ever in a Saturday semifinal win, supplied 12 points but struggled with her shot for most of the night. She was 4 of 15 from the floor (4 of 14 behind the arc), but she drained her final shot to give UAA hope.
The Seawolves led by as many as 12 points in the first half but their offense stalled in the second half. They were up 51-49 on McNair’s basket midway through the third quarter, but the Seawolves didn’t score again until Tennae Voliva made a free throw one minute into the fourth quarter.
During UAA’s six-minute scoring drought, Asuza Pacific (28-5) built a 57-51 lead.
The Seawolves battled back with stout defense. Jumpers by Voliva and Wandersee cut the gap to 59-56 with a little more than six minutes left, but both teams went scoreless for the next four minutes, a span during which UAA missed shot after shot. The Seawolves finally broke through with a Wandersee jumper that trimmed Azusa’s lead to 59-58 with 2:23 left.
“I’m very proud of our team,” McCarthy said. “I’m proud of their fight.”
Stallworth finished with five points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals, and McNair had seven assists, four points and two steals. Voliva, a sophomore from Anchorage, added seven points, five rebounds and two blocks.
UAA couldn’t score against Azusa Pacific’s zone defense and was 25 of 73 from the field, an effort that included a 6-of-26 showing from 3-point range.
"We had a rough night from the field. Azusa bothered us with their length,” McCarthy said.
The Cougars shot nearly 50 percent (21 of 45) to survive 18 turnovers, 15 of which came on UAA steals.
Three players hit double figures for Azusa Pacific. Nieto finished with 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting, with all of her shots coming from 3-point range, Laura Pranger had 14 points, seven rebounds and six blocks, and Daylee Hanson had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Asuza Pacific, a former NAIA team that became an NCAA Division II team in 2014-15, earned its trip to the Elite Eight by winning three West Region tournament games by a combined five points. The Cougars beat Cal Poly Pomona in the first round 62-60 and knocked off previously undefeated UC San Diego 64-63 in the semifinals before sneaking past the Seawolves.
This story has been updated with additional details, including comments from the UAA coach.