Men’s basketball clinches first ever GNAC Championship berth
Alaska pulled off perhaps the biggest win in its Great Northwest Athletic Conference history, as it snapped second-ranked Western Washington’s 30-game win streak with a stunning 77-73 men’s basketball victory Thursday night at the Patty Center.
The Nanooks (14-9, 9-6 GNAC) clinched their first-ever berth into the GNAC Championship with the victory and ended an 11-game losing streak in the series with the defending national champion Vikings (24-1, 15-1 GNAC).
Junior center Sergej Pucar (Belgrade, Serbia/Business administration) poured in a career-high 26 points to go with seven rebounds and two blocks. Junior guard Ronnie Baker (Vallejo, Calif./Communication) tallied 18 points to go with his five boards while senior guard Dominique Brinson (Juneau, Alaska/Accounting) scored 13 points.
Junior forward Andrew Kelly (Gilbert, Ariz./Justice) added nine points and a game-high 11 rebounds and junior guard Pat Voeut (Bellingham, Wash./Communication) dished out a career-best nine assists.
The Nanooks shot 43 percent (25-58) for the game and 45 percent (9-20) from beyond the arc with nine treys while limiting the Vikings to a GNAC season-low 38 percent (24-64) shooting night. The teams tied the battle of the boards 38-38 and Alaska had 17 assists, to Western’s six. Both teams flourished at the line as WWU shot 90 percent (18-20) from the charity stripe while Alaska cashed in on 82 percent (18-22) of its free throws.
Leading the way for the Vikings was John Allen, who scored a game-best 33 points, 26 of which came in the second half. The only other double-figure scorer was Paul Allen, who accrued 11 points in his starting role. Austin Bragg also contributed six points, nine boards and two blocks and Chris Mitchell had eight points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks.
The Nanooks built a sizable lead early in the contest as it used a 10-0 run a span of 1:34 to lead the Vikings 23-12 with 12:14 to go. The ‘Nooks seized their largest lead of the game at 29-15 with 7:57 left but leading 26-24 with just over a minute to go, three pointers by Richard Woodworth and Mitchell trimmed Alaska’s advantage to 36-30 at the break.
Alaska held a 40-33 lead early in the second but a 10-0 surge by WWU gave the visitors its first lead of the ballgame at 43-30 with 15:27 remaining. The game remained tight the entirety of the rest of regulation. Western led 55-53 after a long three ball by Rico Wilkins with 8:49 to go but the Nanooks answered with 10 of the game’s next 13 points, capped off by a fast-break lay-in by junior forward Stefan Tica (Belgrade, Serbia/Business administration) with just over five to go.
With the contest squared at 65 apiece, a trey by Brinson with 2:10 on the clock sparked a 7-2 run, and after Kelly made both free throws with 1:04 to go, Alaska led WWU 72-67. Woodworth hit a pair from the free throw line with 51.9 to go but on the ensuing possession, Voeut lost the ball and it was stolen by Petersburg, Alaska, native Cameron Severson but his attempt to keep it alive went out of bounds, giving Alaska a fresh 35 with a little more than 35 seconds left on the game clock.
Kelly knocked down both free throws with 31.5 to go and after Allen had a pair of fast-break layups, coupled with Pucar free throws, Voeut was sent to the free throw line with 3.7 to and a 76-73 lead. Needing only one free throw to seal the game, Voeut missed the first off the iron but drained the second, giving Alaska its first win over a nationally-ranked opponent since March 4, 2010, when the Nanooks beat ninth-ranked Seattle Pacific in overtime, 113-105.
Alaska will look for the week sweep Saturday when it hosts Simon Fraser. The Clan (6-18, 1-15 GNAC) fell 78-68 to Alaska Anchorage Thursday night at UAA.
It will also be Senior Day as the Nanooks will recognize seniors Dominique Brinson and Zach Ngawaka in the home finale. The game tips off at 3:15 p.m. or 30 minutes following women’s basketball’s outing with Saint Martin’s.