Ryan McCarthy is no stranger to the postseason, as the University of Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team has enjoyed tremendous success during his tenure as the head coach.
He believes the privilege to continue playing in March is “what everyone works for in the summertime” and that the success of a team’s season “is judged by what you do in March.”
The Seawolves will begin their playoff journey by playing Seattle Pacific University in Bellingham, Washington, on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. AST in the 2023 Great Northwest Athletic Conference tournament.
“We’re excited for this opportunity for the GNAC tournament and hopefully we can string together some games and get a bid into the national tournament,” McCarthy said.
The Seawolves are surging into the postseason after winning their last four games, including a 64-54 victory last Thursday over the opponent they will be facing in the opening round.
“Being able to say that we were like the hottest team coming into the tournament was something nice for all of our confidence,” junior guard Vishe’ Rabb said. “I think we’re getting confidence at just the right time, so it couldn’t be any better.”
In a season where wins, and especially road wins against conference opponents, have been hard to come by, the Seawolves are proud of the fact that they were able to accomplish that feat for the second week in a row by completing a regular-season sweep of the Seattle Pacific Falcons. This came a week after doing the same against Western Oregon in their final home game of the season.
“We’ve had a hard time this whole season getting two wins whether at home or on the road, so being able to do that two weekends back-to-back like that is a big deal for us,” Rabb said.
Even though they swept the Falcons, the Seawolves acknowledge and respect them heading into a third matchup with a chance to advance to the semifinals on the line.
“They’re a good team, they guard really well, and especially on their home floor,” McCarthy said. “We know we know them, they know us. It’s just gonna come down to who executes their game plan better and what players end up stepping up for us in this postseason.”
Both teams entered their second meeting vying for one of the final seeds in the conference tournament, and with the win, UAA extended its winning streak and clinched a 12th straight playoff berth. With their third meeting looming, the coaches and players plan to learn from their experiences and develop an even better game plan.
“We see the mistakes that now look so glaring, but at the time, obviously didn’t really feel like that big of a deal,” Rabb said. “Now we know what we need to correct and we’re making adjustments and we know that a lot of our success comes from us being energy givers.”
The team didn’t lose any of its focus or momentum in its regular-season finale Saturday with Montana State-Billings, despite having already secured a playoff berth. They avenged their first loss of the season by spoiling the Yellowjackets’ Senior Day with a 65-58 victory.
“For us to be able to come out on top of that one and just kind of get the monkey off of our back and know that we locked up postseason was big,” McCarthy said. “Then to follow it up with a game like we played at Billings, I just think our team is defending at a pretty high level right now, and even on average shooting nights, they were still able to get a win and especially on the road -- we hadn’t done that all season.”
Heading into the conference tournament, the feeling within the team is energetic enthusiasm and confidence in their abilities to execute.
“I think everyone has the energy, and right now everyone is thinking that they’re a scorer, they’re going to defend, everyone’s kind of on the same mindset and just being bought in,” Rabb said.
The junior transfer has been one of the main catalysts for a lot of the team’s success, especially on the offensive end, where she has recorded 25 or more points in four of their last six games.
“Whenever anyone comes in and they’re new to the program, they’re trying to find out what their role is and see how they can best fit with their abilities,” McCarthy said. “I think the way that our offense is and the speed at which we play, it really lets a player like Vishe’ shine because she’s so athletic.”
Rabb credits her teammates for her being able to thrive at such a high level at the most crucial time in the season.
“A lot of the success has come from us, encouraging each other to find those shots,” she said. “They’re my best supporters in terms of finding my shot and being aggressive. Going forward, it just gives me that extra confidence that it’s like, hey, I can put it down, get to the rack or find my teammates who are also looking to put their shot up too.”
While it has been far from smooth sailing for the vast majority of the season, once they started the conference portion of their schedule, Rabb believes, the team is having the type of success that she envisioned they were capable of when she decided to come to UAA.
“This is definitely the McCarthy vision,” Rabb said. “It’s definitely coming to light, and I’m pretty happy with the whole process. Honestly, it’s been exactly how he kind of outlined it.”
While the Seawolves have had some carryover from last year’s team and there are a handful of players that have been with the program for several years, their leading scorer, rebounder and player with the highest shooting percentage are all new players.
“It takes them a while to get used to the system and the speed of just this level, and the travel and all the things that come along with being a college athlete up in Alaska,” McCarthy said.
He is proud of the adjustment the team has made to be able to put itself in this position after some tough stretches and believes they can be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
“I feel like they know they’re a dangerous team in the postseason,” McCarthy said. “I wouldn’t want to match up with us in the first round. … I think our best basketball is being played right now, and I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet. I’m excited, and I feel like the ladies are on the same page, and we’re excited to go compete on Thursday.”