AZUSA, Calif. – Junior center Hannah Wandersee had 18 points and seven rebounds, but the Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team came up one basket shy of its fifth West Region title Monday in a 71-70 loss to Montana State Billings in the NCAA Div. II West Regional Women’s Basketball Championships at the Felix Event Center.
The 5th-seeded and nationally 13th-ranked Seawolves (27-5) also got 12 points from senior guard Rodericka Ware, but they could not hold on to a 10-point second-half lead.
The 7th-seeded Yellowjackets (25-11) were led by 17 points and 10 rebounds from forward Vanessa Stavish, while senior point guard Rylee Kane had 14 points, including the game-winning free throws with 4.3 seconds remaining. MSUB also got 16 points from senior forward Alisha Breen as it won its first regional crown since 1999.
“I've got to give credit to Montana State Billings," said UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy, who led the Seawolves to a West Region title on the same court two years ago. "Every time we got a decent lead, they hit a big three or got to the free-throw line to stay within striking distance. It's unfortunate we left it in the officials' hands at the end. To end it on free throws is kind of a tough pill to swallow, but it is what it is, and I'm really proud of our ladies for this run that they've made."
UAA – the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season co-champion – forged a 38-32 halftime advantage and scored the first four points of the third quarter to force its largest lead. The Yellowjackets responded immediately, going on an 11-3 run over the next three minutes, and they grabbed their first lead of the night at 48-47 on a layup by center Rachel Koehler.
Tara Thompson gave UAA a 63-57 on her third three-pointer of the night with 6:42 left, but the game would remain a one- or two-possession affair.
Tied 68-68, Ware swiped Kane’s pass and raced the length of the court to give UAA the lead with 1:38 remaining.
Breen converted one of two free throws to make it 70-69 with 42 seconds left, and the Seawolves would commit a shot-clock violation on their ensuing possession.
MSUB’s Hannah Collins was called for traveling with 11 seconds left, but UAA’s Kian McNair stepped out of bounds when she received the inbounds pass, leaving the Yellowjackets another chance.
Kane drove to her right and fell to her knees as McNair was whistled for a foul, and the tournament MVP knocked down both free throws with 4.3 seconds left.
With a foul to give before the two-shot bonus, MSUB took advantage and fouled with 1.5 seconds remaining. UAA called timeout to draw up and inbounds play from underneath its own basket, but Wandersee had trouble corralling the pass cleanly and was blocked by Breen on her attempt at the buzzer.
“It just came down to lack of focus for us down the stretch,” McCarthy added.
Wandersee shot 6 of 6 from the free-throw stripe and joined sophomore point guard Yazmeen Goo (9 points, 6 assists, 0 turnovers) on the all-tournament team, while junior guard Sydni Stallworth tallied double figures for the second straight game with 11 on 5-of-9 shooting.
“This was a really tough loss, obviously, but it's a great experience for our returners for next year," said Thompson, who will enter her senior season No. 6 on UAA's all-time three-pointers list. "It'll just give us motivation over the summer to work hard and come back so we can get another crack at this."