ANCHORAGE – Senior forward Shelby Cloninger delivered 21 points and 10 rebounds Thursday and junior guard Kian McNair did a little of everything to lead the 8th-ranked Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team to a 73-63 victory over Montana State Billings at the Alaska Airlines Center.
The Seawolves (20-2, 13-1 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) also got 14 points and eight rebounds from junior center Hannah Wandersee as they clinched the program’s fourth consecutive 20-win campaign and became the first team to officially qualify for a 2018 GNAC Tournament berth.
The Yellowjackets (15-8, 8-5) were led by 16 points and nine rebounds from senior guard Alisha Breen, but the GNAC’s Preseason Player of the Year shot just 5 of 17 and committed four of her team’s 20 turnovers.
“We showed a lot more poise out there tonight than we had lately,” said UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy, whose team earned its ninth consecutive win over MSUB. “Shelby continues to be an elite scorer and rebounder, and we got nice contributions up and down the lineup. Also, Kian McNair’s performance cannot be overlooked – her rebounding, decision-making and defensive intensity really made the difference between winning and losing this game.”
McNair grabbed a career-high seven rebounds to help UAA to a whopping 46-31 edge on the boards, including 21 offensive caroms. The transfer from Div. I Portland State also tallied six points (all off steals), five assists, four steals and no turnovers in 22 minutes.
UAA led most of the contest, although the Yellowjackets rallied to grab a 42-39 lead on a three-pointer by Lexi Prevost early in the third quarter. Prevost made it a 45-44 MSUB edge on another trey, but freshman center Tennae Voliva made two free throws to start an 8-0 surge that gave UAA the lead for good.
The Seawolves earned double-digit leads three times in the final 12 minutes, only to see the ’Jackets rally each time. After a 66-55 advantage shrank to 66-63 with 1:30 remaining, Cloninger converted a short turnaround jumper in the lane for the eventual clincher.
Cloninger earned her second career double-double on 7-of-13 shooting, along with two assists and two rebounds. Meanwhile, freshman forward Sala Langi came one shy of her personal high with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, along with four rebounds.
Sophomore point guard Yazmeen Goo collected six points and five rebounds in her return from a one-game injury absence, and junior point guard Sydni Stallworth had nine points, four assists and a pair of UAA’s 14 steals.
The Seawolves get a rare Saturday off before traveling to Oregon next week to face Concordia-Portland on Feb. 8 and Western Oregon on Feb. 10. Both games begin at 4:15 p.m. AST and can be seen live on GNAC.tv.