Home Sport College Hoops: Late-season push has Seawolves in NCAA Tournament for first time in 12 years; UAA opens against No. 20 San Bernardino Friday

College Hoops: Late-season push has Seawolves in NCAA Tournament for first time in 12 years; UAA opens against No. 20 San Bernardino Friday

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College Hoops: Late-season push has Seawolves in NCAA Tournament for first time in 12 years; UAA opens against No. 20 San Bernardino Friday

UAA point guard Dillon Barrientos has been A1 since Day 1. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Lots of teams overplay the respect card, but the Seawolves have a legit case. They were picked seventh in the GNAC preseason poll and written off with a month left in the regular season, and yet they are in the NCAA Tournament.

A late season push by the UAA men’s basketball team propelled the Seawolves into the West Regional for the first time since 2012 as they won seven of nine, including back-to-back upsets in the conference tournament to reach the title game.

The Seawolves (22-10) dropped a 78-69 decision to Central Washington for the GNAC championship last Saturday night. Twenty-four hours later the 64-team Division II tournament field was revealed, and they had earned the program’s 17th all-time NCAA appearance.

Seventh seeded UAA opens the West Regional against nationally ranked and defending regional champion CSU San Bernardino on Friday at 1:30 p.m. ADT in Los Angeles.

In the span of a year, coach Rusty Osborne went from suffering his first losing season since 2005 to directing a nine-win improvement and getting UAA back to the Big Dance for the sixth time in his 19 seasons, ending a 12-year absence.

The Seawolves are 9-3 in games decided by five points or fewer and have produced eight come-from-behind victories, including a handful of double-figure, second-half comebacks.

“Those guys have a never-quit attitude and always play with a bet-on-yourself mindset from the coaching staff down,” said former Seawolf Da’Zhon Wyche of Anchorage.

Few people know the character of the Seawolves like Wyche, who played with a vast majority of this year’s roster a year ago.

“They’re all hard workers and love seeing the next person do well, and with that kind of attitude mixed in with the skill set, it’s not really surprising to me that they’re having a season like this,” Wyche said. “To see them get this chance makes me really happy.”

Fairbanks native Jim Hajdukovich hasn’t played for the Seawolves in a quarter of a century, but he’s so fired up about his alma mater being back in the NCAA Tournament he’s ready to suit up again.

“I love it,” he said. “This senior-led team has pulled out some huge wins.”

Hajdukovich was a star guard for UAA from 1995 to 1999 and set the gold standard of what it meant to be a Seawolf – brains, brawn, guts – so much so the program named an award after him.

Seawolf Hall of Famer Jim Hajdukovich

Hajdukovich knows talent, and he likes what he sees from this group.

“Basketball roles on a team are quite important in an age of basketball where individuals seem to be grown more than teams,” said Hajdukovich, who is currently an assistant coach for the Dimond High boys. “The players on this year’s team know where they fit, and I think senior leadership has been a big part of their success.”

One of the players to catch his eye is Gilbert, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Highlands Ranch, Colo., who is the team’s go-to scorer (15.3 ppg).

“Tyson Gilbert has carried the scoring on his shoulders at times, for sure,” Hajdukovich said. “He hits the floor more than a few times a game and I love that.”

Energy and execution were Hajdukovich’s bread and butter, and he loves what he sees from the former East T-birds’ tandem of Jaron Williams and Hasaan Herrington coming off the bench.

“Their defense and rebounding change the game,” Hajdukovich said.

Williams, a 6-foot-4 senior, is someone Wyche has watched for years. They both came from Rage City original high schools, Wyche at West and Williams at East, and together bridged the gap between elite local players and the city’s only college basketball program.

Anchorage native Jaron Williams surrounded by family on Senior Night. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Last season, Wyche had a game with 12 assists – the second most by a UAA player from Alaska. This season, Williams had a game with 29 points – the ninth-highest career high by a UAA player from Alaska.

Wyche came to UAA as a former prep player of the year while Williams arrived on campus as more of a defensive specialist who has developed his offensive productivity (10.0 ppg).

In Game 1 of the GNAC Tournament, Williams had 23 points and hit back-to-back buckets inside the final three minutes to seal an 81-76 win over Saint Martin’s. In the semifinals, he again came up huge with a driving layup with 54 seconds left to provide the winning basket in a 64-63 win over Northwest Nazarene.

“Ronnie really took his game to another level this year, which was needed for them to be successful,” said Wyche. “There’s not one thing he doesn’t do for the team, like playing the 1 through 4 and being the person to guard the other team’s guy isn’t an easy job, and to bring that type of energy every game, you just gotta admire it.”

UAA’s Jaron Williams stretches to block a jump shot. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

SCOUTING THE OPPONENT

San Bernardino (23-7) won the CCAA regular-season title but lost to Cal State Los Angeles in the conference tournament title game.

The Coyotes are ranked No. 20 in the country and led by All-CCAA first team picks Chris Mitchell (16.0 ppg) and Robby Robinson (14.7 ppg, 8.9 rpg) in addition to CCAA Defensive Player of the Year Sedrick Altman (13.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg).

UAA and San Bernardino met for the first time ever earlier this season in December at the Hoops in Hawaii Classic in Honolulu, where LeAndrew Knight snapped a 64-64 tie on a layup with 54 seconds remaining to lead the Californians to a 70-64 victory.

Senior Dathan Satchell led UAA with 16 points and Gilbert had 12 points and three steals as the Seawolves lost despite shooting 47% from the field.

UAA’s Tyson Gilbert drives to the hoop. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

UAA AT THE NCAAs

The Seawolves are 15-16 all-time at the NCAA Tournament, including 9-7 in openers. They made the Final Four twice (1988, 2008) and played for a national championship in 1988, losing 75-72 to Massachusetts-Lowell.

Here is a glance at some memorable NCAA Tournament games for UAA over the last four decades.

  • 1982 – Making their NCAA Tournament debut, the Seawolves fell behind by 17 before losing 66-60 to 10th-ranked Cal Poly. All-conference forward Johnny Gilbert led the way with 19 points while former West High standout Ty Kuiper of Anchorage scored nine points.
  • 1986 – All-American Jesse Jackson bagged 42 points and former Chugiak High standout Vern Robateau converted a three-point play with 3 seconds left to secure an 86-83 win over 11th-ranked UC Riverside on coach Harry Larrabee’s 34th birthday.
  • 1988 – Conference Player of the Year Dale Bartley of Fairbanks had 28 points and 16 rebounds in an 89-82 OT win over Cal State Bakersfield. The former Lathrop High standout made 11-of-14 field goals and had 21 points after halftime.
  • 1988 – All-American Michael Johnson bagged 17 points and held Troy State’s 24-point scorer Darryl Thomas to 15 in a 77-72 win that propelled the Seawolves to the national championship game.
  • 1991 – All-West Region standout Jackie Johnson collected 36 points on 17-of-34 shooting to go with 22 rebounds in a 74-69 win over Chico State.
  • 1996 – Former Service High star Lane Lockard of Anchorage hit a short jumper off glass at the buzzer to force OT in a game the Seawolves subsequently lost 105-96 to Grand Canyon.
  • 2008 – All-conference forward McCade Olsen pumped in 22 points and drained two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to provide a thrilling 56-55 victory over Seattle Pacific. All-American Carl Arts of Valdez had 19 points and fourth-ranked UAA shot 54% in the second half.
  • 2008 – UAA’s potent 1-2 punch of Arts and Olsen struck again as Arts collected 17 points and eight rebounds while Olsen hit the go-ahead jumper with 27 seconds left in a 55-52 win over California of Pennsylvania in the elite eight.
  • 2011 – All-conference standout Mario Gill’s 20 points and seven rebounds helped UAA knock off sixth-ranked Humboldt State 76-70. Former Heritage Christian High star Lonnie Ridgeway of Anchorage added 10 points.
  • 2012 – West Region Player of the Year Taylor Rohde tied his career-high with 32 points and ripped down a game-high 11 rebounds to lead 16th-ranked UAA over Montana State-Billings 80-68. All-Conference guard Kyle Fossman of Haines scored 18 points.

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