As it currently stands, the only thing that the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s and women’s basketball teams know for certain is that they will have at least four more regular-season games. What happens after depends on how strong they finish their respective seasons.
Both teams will be playing their final two home games of the season at the Alaska Airlines Center this week with matchups against Saint Martin’s on Thursday night and Western Washington on Saturday night.
The men’s team has won three straight, its second-longest winning streak of the season and its first since losing leading scorer Da’Zhon Wyche for the second semester due to his eligibility clock running out.
“We’re playing really good basketball right now and it’s exciting,” senior guard AJ Garrity said. “It was a big adjustment for us losing Da’Zhon and having to move guys around, figure out what we’re going to do ... Guys are starting to figure out their roles and that’s what’s going to happen with a new team like we have this year.”
The Seawolves have been able to find their groove by spreading the wealth on offense and tightening up on defense late in games to come out on the right side of close games they were losing early in the season.
“We lost a lot of tough close games this year where we feel like we should’ve won,” Garrity said. “We could easily be 19-4 or 20-3 right now. We lost a lot of really heartbreaking close games and to be sitting here at the end of the season with four games left knowing that if we win a couple more of theses games and we’re right back in that position.”
He believes that the teams playing their best basketball at the end of the year are the ones that go on to have the most postseason success. He hopes that his team can go on a similar magical run to their in-state rival University of Alaska Fairbanks did last year.
“They started playing good basketball, rolled through the GNAC tourney and rolled through the West Regionals,” Garrity said. “That’s just something we’re trying to pick up.”
As for the women’s team, they are on a two-game skid after dropping back-to-back games for just the second time this season to fall to 14-9 on the year.
They’re currently on the outside looking in as the seventh seed in the GNAC standings needing to win out to punch their ticket as only the top six make the conference tournament.
“We’re just going to leave it all out there at this point,” senior guard Nicole Pinckney said. “That’s kind of our mentality this week. Just leave it all out on the floor.”
Neither program’s season has gone the way they had envisioned coming in as both have struggled to find consistent success.
The men are currently 12-11 and are sixth in the conference standings, just half a game ahead of Western Washington.
“We always want to be put in the position where we can control our own destiny,” Garrity said.
The women’s team has qualified for the GNAC tournament every year that Pinckney has been in the program.
Facing the possibility of potentially being on the outside looking in if they don’t take care of business over the next two weeks is a foreign feeling to her and several of her teammates and coaches.
“This is the first year that we’ve been on the edge but there’s still a chance,” Pinckney said. “Every basketball player’s dream would be to go end with a championship.”
An area of emphasis that the women’s team in particular has been working on as of late has been their defense.
“I feel like these last few games we’ve kind of slacked a little bit and that’s really what we’re focusing on,” Pinckney said. “Just applying really good ball pressure and having that mayhem mentality again.”
Reflection and appreciation for the Green and Gold
As a Chugiak High alum, Pinckney is grateful to have had the opportunity to be able to stay close to home play in front of her friends and family throughout her career and is expecting a large contingent of them to show up and show out on Saturday’s Senior Night.
“I’m going to need some extra tickets for sure,” Pinckney said.
She described being able to go from a local product to Seawolf and represent her community as well as the green and gold as “super special.”
“Growing up here, a lot of my friends that I played basketball with since I was six years old have been able to come watch me,” Pinckney said.
While she couldn’t narrow down her fondest memory from her time as a Seawolf, the game-winning shot she knocked down to prevail 73-71 over Simon Fraser last month at home on Jan. 26 ranks up near the top.
[Chugiak’s Nicole Pinckney helps UAA complete rally with game-winning shot against Simon Fraser]
“Just being out there and making new friends and lifelong friends has probably been my favorite thing about being a Seawolf every year,” Pinckney said.
Even though Garrity has been at UAA half the amount of time as Pinckney, who was also born and raised in Alaska, he still views the Last Frontier as a “home away from home.”
“Alaska will always have a close place in my heart,” he said. “I will be visiting here often.”
He came to the men’s program as a junior college transfer from Santiago Canyon College in Orange, California and is originally from Huntington Beach, California where he starred at the prep level for Edison High School.
The biggest obstacle for him in his career has been his health and ability to stay on the court.
However, he is extremely grateful for faith his coaches and trainers at UAA had in him and it’s paid off as he has been a regular starter all season, averaging 21.6 minutes as game, and hasn’t missed a single game to date.
“There was a lot of coaches that didn’t want to take chances on me because of my past injury history and I’m very grateful that coach (Rusty) Osborne and coach (Ryan) Orton saw what they saw in me and believed that I could stay healthy through it all,” Garrity said. “I hope I made them proud and UAA and all the fans proud as well.”