LA JOLLA, Calif. – Alaska Anchorage center Hannah Wandersee had 23 points and nine rebounds but 4th-seeded Azusa Pacific hit a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to claim the NCAA Div. II West Regional women’s basketball title game over the Seawolves, 65-63, Monday night at RIMAC Arena.
The 3rd-seeded Seawolves also got 12 points – including a go-ahead three-pointer with 3.2 seconds remaining – from senior guard Tara Thompson as they lost a one-possession contest in the regional final for the second year in a row.
The Cougars (28-5) were led by 15 points on 5-of-7 three-point shooting from reserve guard Lydia Nieto, who accounted for the game-winner to send her team to its first NCAA Elite Eight. APU will play Mar. 26 in the national quarterfinals in Columbus, Ohio.
“We hit a shot that gave us a chance to win, and that’s all really you can ask for,” said UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy, whose team rallied from a seven-point deficit with 8:20 remaining. “If there was any shot you’re going to lose on, I’d rather lose on that than they draw up some wizard play and get a layup. If they hit a Hail Mary, then God bless ‘em and you’ve got to move on.”
Despite racing to an early 11-2 lead and claiming a 35-23 advantage midway through the second quarter, the Seawolves would go cold for the final five minutes of the first half and trailed 38-37 at the break.
UAA took a 51-49 lead on a layup by senior guard Kian McNair midway through the third quarter, only to suffer another cold stretch.
After APU’s Savanna Hanson hit a jumper to put the Californians up 59-52, the Seawolves went into lock-down mode defensively and crawled back slowly, tying it 60-60 on two Wandersee free throws with 1:42 remaining.
The Cougars took a 62-60 lead on an inbounds feed from Savanna Hanson to Daylee Hanson, and both teams missed opportunities to score on their ensuing possessions.
McCarthy called timeout with 11.2 seconds remaining to set up a play for Thompson – who was coming off a season-high 19 points in UAA’s NCAA Second Round win over Northwest Nazarene – and the local Dimond High product drained a WNBA-range three-pointer from the top of the key for a 63-62 lead.
With a full timeout remaining, APU was able to advance the ball to midcourt along the sideline, where Nieto caught the ball and was trapped by a double-team. With no other choice, the freshman tossed up a high-arching shot that swished through at the buzzer, setting off a Cougar celebration.
“I’m very proud of our team. I’m proud of their fight,” said McCarthy, whose program won the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season title and achieved a 30-victory for the second time in four years. “It hurts a lot more this year because we had more buy-in. I’ve had teams that lost in the first round and other that have competed for a national championship, and I don’t know that any of teams had the buy-in that this group did and was able to overachieve to the extent they did. I’m extraordinarily proud of everyone, especially our four seniors.”
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