Growing up in Chugiak, Nicole Pinckney dreamed of moments like the one she experienced on Thursday.
Pinckney drained the game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds remaining in the Seawolves’ 73-71 come-from-behind victory over Simon Fraser at the Alaska Airlines Center.
“It’s fun being here with the home crowd and it’s really exciting and a great opportunity to represent my home state,” Pinckney said.
The shot from the former Chugiak High star helped improve UAA’s record to 13-6 while dropping the Red Leafs’ mark to 6-8.
“That was huge,” UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy said. “And for a senior like Nicole I’m so glad that she hit that shot because she’s put in a lot of work, has been really loyal to the program, and that’s a moment she’s going to be able to tell her grandkids about.”
After missing an opportunity to win the game in the final seconds of regulation on a midrange jumper with it tied 63-63, she made the most of her second chance, hitting the winning shot just inside 3-point range.
“I knew it was short so I had to add a little bit extra,” Pinckney said. “My teammates really set me up well to get both of those shots. They hit their man (with a good screen). If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to execute that.”
The shot was the exclamation mark on a big comeback for UAA. The team trailed by double digits several times throughout the night.
“We really emphasized staying disciplined, running after the ball, getting some really critical stops and I think that’s what motivated us to play well and play hard,” Pinckney said. “Our message was just to stay calm, focus on what we do and it will all work out.”
UAA allowed its Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe from Burnaby, British Columbia to go on a pair of 10-0 runs during the game. The Seawolves were behind as many as 13 at one point and trailed 56-46 at the start of the fourth quarter.
“We had a slow start, we didn’t really execute on the offensive end very well and some of the players on the scouting report that we had talked about as a being god shooters, we didn’t do a good job of contesting their looks,” McCarthy said.
The Seawolves would not relent and outscored the Red Leafs 17-7 in the fourth quarter to force an extra period.
“We’ve had some uncharacteristic losses this year on not battling back,” McCarthy said. “We really focused on that kind of mentality in terms of not having to do more when you’re down but doing things right. Being more disciplined in our offense, talking more defensively, or just focusing on a lot of the little things.”
The Seawolves struggled to contain Simon Fraser’s best shooters early on but did a better job of making them pull up for contested shots as the game progressed. Simon Fraser shot nearly 50 percent from behind the arc in the first half and 60 percent in the third but went 1-of-9 and 0-of-2 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“Down the stretch, I thought some of the shots that they hit had hands in their face and those are ones we have to live with,” McCarthy said. “I thought the ladies did a much better job of executing what we’ve been talking about all week long.”
Pinckney was the third leading scorer with 12 points and was one of four Seawolves that reached double figures in points. Leading scorer Jazzpher Evans overcame a slow start and was very clutch late scoring six of her 16 points in the overtime alone.
“Jazz came up huge in overtime,” McCarthy said. “We challenged the team at halftime and Jazz rose to the challenge. She had a couple impressive finishes that you don’t typically see in women’s basketball.”
The team’s second leading scorer was Pinkney’s fellow senior and local product Jahnna Hajdukovich, who finished with 14 points. More than half of her points came from long distance as she went 3-of-6 on 3-pointers, several of which were timely buckets that sparked runs for the Seawolves and cut into the Red Leafs’ lead.
“Jahnna has been really consistent for us all year,” McCarthy said. “She’s been a very good leader for us as the team captain and just really reinforces what the coaching staff is trying to say, keeps the ladies calm, and hits some big shots down the stretch for us.”
Pinckney hopes Thursday’s triumph will help the team gain some much-needed momentum with a huge matchup Saturday with nationally ranked Western Washington. The Vikings handed the Seawolves their most lopsided loss of the season, 104-51 on December 29, 2022.
“I think we’re really just trying to stay focused, be prepared for that game, and use some of our momentum,” she said.
The Seawolves will host the 15-2 Vikings on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Alaska Airlines Center.