Both of the University of Alaska Anchorage basketball teams entered their final week of home games for the 2022-2023 season in similar situations with the same goal in mind — to earn wins that would keep their postseason hopes alive.
While the men’s team faltered and lost its final two games of the year at the Alaska Airlines Center on Thursday and Saturday, the women’s team got back on track.
The Seawolves defended their home court and emerged victorious in both games by double-digit margins. On Thursday against Saint Martin’s, they earned a season spilt in the series with a 76-63 win and against Western Oregon on Saturday, they completed the season sweep with an 80-58 win.
“It feels good to just be able to get the sweep, because we’ve had a hard time getting that this season, so it just feels good, especially to kind of lock down (defensively) on Senior Night,” junior guard Vishe’ Rabb said.
The back-to-back wins ended a two-game skid while providing the Seawolves with some much-needed momentum and confidence in the process.
“Our coaches are saying that we’re peaking at the right time,” Rabb said. “A lot of teams will kind of start (strong) and then by the time March rolls around, they can’t sustain it. We’re just trying to find our good game and just keep it going forward.”
Saturday night’s lopsided victory over the Wolves was a fitting way to send out their graduating class on Senior Night.
“I just feel like the ending to that was something that this group has really earned,” UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy said. “They’ve been through it this year. This isn’t a typical year for our program and the seniors have stayed really loyal to what we do and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
With a conference record of 8-8 with two left to play, the Seawolves are currently in a four-way tie with Simon Fraser, Seattle Pacific and Northwest Nazarene for one of the final three spots to get into the conference tournament.
Only the top six teams get in and three teams have already clinched playoff berths. Among them are Central Washington and top-ranked Western Washington, which both swept UAA this season. The third, Montana State Billings, beat UAA in the first meeting of the season and will be the Seawolves’ opponent in the regular season finale.
“It’s a crazy year this year so we’ve got to handle business on the road,” McCarthy said. “Our first line of business is (Seattle Pacific University). That’d be a really good game because if we beat them, we would win a head-to-head tiebreaker because we would have swept them this year.”
The Seawolves got out to an exceptional start where they were clicking on all cylinders on both ends of the court. Using an explosive offense and a suffocating defense, they led 29-10 by the end of the opening quarter.
Hours before the game, McCarthy watched ESPN’s “30 for 30″ documentary on the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. That squad was one of his favorite teams growing up in high school because of their legendary defense that carried the team to its first Super Bowl title.
“They were all about defense, and that’s actually what I talked to (the team) pre-game,” he said. “We want to be the team that people have to pay a price to play and I thought we did that in the first quarter.”
In her first year with the program after transferring from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Rabb is the team’s leading scorer on the season with 377 points in 23 games for an average of 16.4. She is also tied for the team lead in steals with 45, is second in rebounds with 141 and has been named GNAC Player of the Week twice.
“Typically with transfer players, they don’t make the kind of impact that she has and they go through like a stock market kind of year,” McCarthy said. “It has its ups and downs and she got to a point in time where she struggled and went through a little bit of a slump three weeks ago. I feel like she’s coming out of that, because she’s getting a lot more comfortable with the offense, seeing everybody for the second time, and getting used to our league.”
She has scored more than 20 points in three of the team’s last four games, including a game-high 29 against the Wolves on Saturday night and a career-high 35 in a 78-75 overtime road loss to Northwest Nazarene on Feb. 9.
“Vishe’ is a really special player,” McCarthy said. “I’m really excited to see her grow over the summer and to next season, because this is just the tip of the iceberg with that kid.”
At the beginning of the season, the team was dealing with so many injuries that McCarthy says they were still in “learning mode.” Now that they’re healthier, the teams believe the ability to continue to learn on the fly while still winning is a great sign and indicator of future success.
“Right now, we’re all kind of on a high that we don’t want to go back to where we were in the middle of the season,” Rabb said. “Not knowing our roles and not knowing how to be confident in what we do. Right now, we’re really into our defense, really into just different looks in our offense. So I think just going forward, we’re ready to punch the ticket.”