UAA Athletics

UAA men’s basketball aims to make the most of its first NCAA tournament appearance in years

This weekend, the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s basketball team will be taking part in an NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years when they hit the court for the Division II Western Regional Championship tournament.

The Seawolves plan to make the most of an opportunity they weren’t sure they’d have after coming up short in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship game last Saturday, losing to Central Washington in the finals.

“We had a long night after we lost, had a flight to catch leaving at 5 a.m. from Seattle to come back to Anchorage, and by then we thought the season was over,” UAA senior Jaron Williams said. “There were a lot of tears in the locker room and congratulating each other on the season.”

But head coach Rusty Osborne knew that they still stood a chance of making the Western Regional tournament.

“The term we use from the ‘Princess Bride’ movie in the locker room was, ‘Hey, this may be it, but we’re only partially dead right now, not all the way dead,’ and found out that we were back alive,” he said. “It was really appropriate for this group. It’s been a resilient group that’s come back from the dead a lot.”

Heading into the weekend, he hadn’t studied where they might need to finish to qualify for regions, but he felt “pretty good” about their chances of at least earning an at-large bid given they had advanced all the way to the conference title game.

“That’s what happened and we’re excited to keep playing,” Osborne said.


The swing of emotions from thinking their season was over to finding out that the sliver of hope blossomed into a renewed and extended playoff life was wild for UAA’s coaches and players alike.

“Coach had sent us a text saying he had a lot of hope in us still with how everything was playing out in the region,” Williams said.

Given his previous experience on the selection committee, Osborne knew his team stood a strong chance of advancing once he began studying their record and those of the other teams in contention for the at-large bid.

“I had an idea of what they were looking at, and once I got back to the hotel room, I was encouraged by looking at our numbers,” he said. “We were fourth in the region in wins over teams that were over .500.”

Knowing that they were in the mix was one thing, but having to wait for it to be confirmed or denied had everyone on the edge of their seats during the selection show on Sunday night in the admin building.

“We saw our names pop up and everyone was filled with excitement,” Williams said. “I feel like Coach knew but he didn’t want to tell us yet. It was awesome just to see our name go up there.”

Battling their way back from the brink of defeat has been the Seawolves’ calling card this year. They’ve been able to come back from being down by as many as 18 points down the stretch to pull off victories, which makes them a scary draw for anyone during March Madness.

“We’d be down eight or 10 and somebody on the bench or the locker room would say, ‘We got them right where we want them right now,’” Osborne said. “Their confidence is sky high that we could fall behind and still work our way back into it.”

UAA will face No. 2 seed Cal State San Bernardino in the opening round on Friday at 1:30 p.m. Alaska time. It will mark the second meeting between the two teams this season and the first since mid-December, when the Coyotes narrowly defeated the Seawolves 70-64 on the second day of the Hoops in Hawaii Classic.

“It seems like a daunting task but we’ve played them already,” Osborne said. “We know them and they know us also.”

UAA was short-handed in that first matchup due to a player being ill, and despite the Seawolves going 11-of-19 from the free-throw line, the game was still tied with 50 seconds left to play.

“They made a layup and we missed one, and then we had to foul, so it looks like a six-point win but it was anybody’s game,” Osborne said. “We led for about 30 of the 40 minutes. Our guys are confident and know what we’re up against.”

Williams, who was born and raised in Anchorage, said the Seawolves don’t like to take their previous losses lightly and want to properly represent the city that supports them.

“We’re always going to keep playing for this city because it’s the reason we keep going so hard,” he said. “I just think about how I was when I was a kid and how I didn’t hear much about UAA just because there wasn’t a lot of players from Alaska on the team, so I hope other kids are looking at me knowing they can do the same thing I’m doing right now.”

Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.