LA JOLLA, Calif. – Senior guard Tara Thompson scored a season-high 19 points and 3rd-seeded Alaska Anchorage survived a late Northwest Nazarene rally to hold on for a 69-67 victory in the second round of the NCAA Div. II Women’s Basketball West Regional Championships on Saturday at RIMAC Arena.
The nationally 8th-ranked Seawolves (30-2) also got 16 points from Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year Hannah Wandersee and 11 points from senior guard Sydni Stallworth as they avenged their GNAC Tournament title-game loss and moved on to the Sweet 16 for the second straight season.
UAA will play 4th-seeded and nationally 24th-ranked Azusa Pacific (27-5) after the Pacific West Conference regular-season champions claimed a 64-61 upset of top-seeded and nationally 2nd-ranked UC San Diego in Saturday’s late semifinal.
The Nighthawks (29-3) – seeded No. 2 in the regional and ranked No. 5 nationally – were led by 14 points from all-conference guard Avery Albrecht and 13 points from point guard Marina Valles, but the Nampa, Idaho, program could not take advantage of a 35-23 rebounding advantage and 21 UAA turnovers.
“We only won that game because we went 11 of 18 from the three-point line,” said Ryan McCarthy, whose team’s 61.1 percent accuracy was its best from long range in his seven years as head coach. “We wanted to outrebound them – that didn’t happen. We wanted to take care of the ball – that didn’t happen. But the one thing I said was ‘get hot,’ and we did and it all worked out. And that’s March, and that’s why it’s special.”
Playing the Nighthawks for the fourth time this season and the third time in 17 days, the Seawolves used 7-of-14 shooting and 10 points from Wandersee in the opening quarter to forge a 20-16 lead.
UAA took a 36-25 lead on a layup by Tennae Voliva with 3:03 left, but NNU scored the last seven points of the first half, and all three Seawolf interior players – Wandersee, Voliva and freshman Kimani Fernandez-Roy – went into halftime with three fouls.
Thompson – a second team All-GNAC pick from Anchorage’s Dimond High School – sank a trey to make it 50-38 midway through the third quarter, and the Seawolves led 59-47 with 10 minutes remaining.
Stallworth got a kind bounce to sink her third three-pointer with 8:31 left, giving UAA its largest lead at 62-49. NNU continued to cut into the lead, however, slicing it to 64-63 when Albrecht capped a 10-0 run with a three-pointer at the 2-minute mark.
After nearly losing the ball on its ensuing possession, UAA got a reprieve when a jump ball was forced with three seconds on the shot clock. The Seawolves set a screen for Thompson, who took a long lob pass from Stallworth on the opposite side of the court and drained her final trey at the 1:26 mark.
After Valles made two free throws with 44 seconds, UAA went ahead 68-65 when sophomore Sala Langi split a pair of free throws with 25 seconds left. Valles made two more charities with 15 seconds remaining, and Thompson was fouled on the inbounds pass.
The fifth-year senior – who had shot just four free throws all season – made her first but missed her second, giving the Nighthawks a final opportunity to tie or take the lead. Valles got a decent look from the top of the key for the win, but her three-point attempt rattled out and UAA’s Yazmeen Goo secured the rebound as time expired.
“We practiced those plays a lot this week … I had a good feeling that that would go in,” said Thompson, who ranked No. 2 on UAA’s career three-pointers list, now with 233. “I’m proud of our seniors – they stepped up – but I’m most proud of our freshman (Fernandez-Roy). She played the 4-position (power forward) all season, and both our ‘fives’ fouled out, and she came up big time for us.”
Wandersee shot 6 of 9 from the floor, including 2 of 2 from long range, and added three blocks, before fouling out with 4:19 remaining. Voliva had also fouled out three minutes earlier, leaving the game with nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Goo led UAA with five assists and fellow honorable mention All-GNAC selection Stallworth dished four assists and committed just two turnovers against NNU’s full-court pressure.
The Seawolves advance to the West Region final for the sixth time in the last 11 years, having won the title and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2016.
Monday’s regional title game will be streamed live at UCSDTritons.tv, with the winner advancing to the Elite Eight national quarterfinals, Mar. 26 in Columbus, Ohio.
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