After opening the 2022-2023 regular season with three straight road games, the University of Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team played its first home game of the year on Friday at Alaska Airlines Center in the return of the Great Alaska Shootout.
The Seawolves treated their home fans to an exciting game that ended with a 64-51 victory over Division I opponent University of California Riverside to advance to Saturday’s championship round of the two-day tournament.
“We’ve been road warriors the first two weeks and this is just the most sweet way to come back and have the Great Alaska Shootout to be your home opener,” UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said.
UAA went on 10-0 runs to start both halves and while they allowed their first lead to dissolve into a 26-26 halftime tie, the Sewolves didn’t squander their second. They led by as many as 15 points in the second half before UC Riverside scored a last-second bucket.
“I thought our ladies did a great job executing our game plan,” McCarthy said. “In the first quarter, we came out and did the things that we talked about, kind of had a lull there in the second quarter, and then at halftime we were able to make some adjustments and they did a very good job of executing that for 20 minutes.”
The players said they refocused at halftime after losing their early lead and allowing the Highlanders tie game with a three-pointer at the buzzer. UAA came out of the lockerroom with a renewed focus to not only get back to firing on all cylinders of offense but clamp down on defense as well.
“After that buzzer-beater it was kind of like a slap back to reality that we needed to focus up,” senior gaurd Vishe’ Rabb said. “I know we had a lot more intense emotions going into our huddle talk but we needed it.”
Rabb led the team with 14 points and sophomore forward Kate Robertson contributed 12 points and five assists.
UAA never trailed in the game and after getting out to a 10-point lead early in the third period, the Seawolves never let UC Riverside within seven points of them.
“I thought we controlled the tempo a lot better and we had better movement offensively,” McCarthy said. “UC Riverside really denies passing lanes and overplays certain things that we felt we could get some backdoors against.
He commended his players for attempting as many backdoor passes as they did since the maneuver can often be at high risk for a turnover.
“You can be the hero or the fool on those ones and the ladies did a really good job of just being confident and executing on offense,” McCarthy said.
This marked the first Shootout experience and home game experience overall for Rabb. The first-year Seawolf had a great time playing on her new homecourt and in front of home fans since transferring to the team.
“It was honestly a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be,” Rabb said. “They kind of talk about how that is part of the sell to get us to come here. They talk about the arena, the talk about the atmosphere, and I think all of us played into it perfectly.
Even though this was far from Jahnna Hajdukovich’s first home game as a Seawolf, it was her first at the Shootout and as a UAA basketball legacy, it meant even more for her to not only win but be a key contributor in the team’s triumph. She scored nine points and added a team-high seven rebounds.
Her dad Jim Hajdukovich, a former UAA basketball player is in the Seawolf Hall of Fame.
“It was very memorable and dream come true,” Hajdukovich said. “I’m just lucky enough to be on this team and experience that. This is a good win and a good win for our team so we just have to keep this momentum moving forward.”
The homegrown Anchorage star was so determined and focused when going up rebounds that she even ferociously snatched a few of her teammates in the heat of the moment.
“That was unintentional,” Hajdukovich said with a laugh. “I didn’t know it was my teammate but I wasn’t going to let anybody take the ball from me.”
The Anchorage and UAA community as a whole came out in strong support of the program with a crowd that included students, family members of the local players and faithful fans of the program.
“I love the energy, I love our fans, my family is all here,” Hajdukovich said. “This is a great group of girls and I’m just really honored to be able to play in front of my home crowd and for my community.”
The first game of the Shootout was was entertaining for the crowd as well as La Salle topped Pepperdine 83-81 in overtime. Claire Jacobs scored 27 points to lead the way for the Philadelphians.
The win set up a showdown between La Salle and UAA in the championship game Saturday at 7:30 p.m.