FAIRBANKS—Alaska Nanooks head coach Mick Durham, based on what he saw in Thursday’s Blue-Gold Game, may have some difficulty finalizing a lineup for its men’s basketball team’s season openers.
The team’s three returning players from last season — 6-foot-11 junior center Sergei Pucar, 6-2 senior guard Dominique Brinson and 6-7 junior forward Stefan Tica — are scheduled to start the Nov. 9 opener against Colorado State University-Pueblo in the GCI Invitational in Anchorage.
From there, Durham has several talented newcomers to choose from for the tournament in Anchorage, which includes a Nov. 10 game against Colorado Christian.
Durham, following the Blue team’s 74-63 win in the Patty Center, said he’s determined the Nanooks’ top 10 players based on their performances in practices.
However, nothing is etched in stone.
“When I mix the top 10 in practice, there is no difference,” the second-year head coach said. “I’ll probably lean on the returnees and a couple of new guys to start the first game.
“We’re eight deep right now and I’m trying to develop us to 10 deep,” added Durham, who had 16 players for the scrimmage.
The Nanooks women’s Blue-Gold Game took place earlier Thursday and was won 45-34 by the Blue.
The Alaska women open the season against the Colorado School of Mines at 7 p.m. Nov. 10 in the Patty Center.
“We all want one goal, and that’s to win,” said junior guard Destini Lewis, a transfer from North Platte Community College in Nebraska.
“The Nanooks haven’t had many wins in previous years. So we have one goal — win games and to get fans and the community into this gym to watch us play.”
Both Nanooks teams were 2-16 last season in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. The women finished 6-22 overall while the men were 5-23.
Dallen Bills has gotten comfortable with the Nanooks. The 6-5 junior forward and transfer from Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College was the only player in double figures Thursday, producing 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Bills, from Inkom, Idaho has seemingly developed into a solid utility player for Alaska.
“I’m just going to work hard and do what I can to help the team,” Bills said. “If that’s a rebound, it’s a rebound; if it’s a good screen, then it’s a screen.”
Durham has been impressed with Bills’ work ethic.
“Dallen Bills won’t quit,” Durham said. “He a had pretty rough night but in the end, he came through and got some things done late. He just works and works; he’s a little undersized but he’s athletic.”
Another junior college transfer, Pat Vouet, is gradually working his way into the starting point guard role.
Vouet came from Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Wash., which also is home to Western Washington University, a Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival and last season’s NCAA Division II national champion.
The 5-11 transfer, who provided 12 points and eight assists Thursday, brings more than speed to Alaska.
“Intensity on the defensive side; getting everyone going before the game, during the game and after, and being positive and making sure everyone is getting involved,” Voeut said.
Five other players scored in double figures Thursday. Tica had 16 points, and fellow returners Brinson and Pucar scored 15 apiece. Newcomers Ronnie Baker (6-3 junior guard) and Andrew Kelly (6-7 junior forward) scored 15 and 14, respectively, and Zach Ngawaka (6-5 senior forward) contributed 13 points.
“I think we’re going to hustle and work as hard as we can,” said Pucar, who also had 11 rebounds Thursday.
Thirteen of the 16 players on Thursday’s roster were guards, but the Nanooks’ backcourt is versatile.
“We’re very fast, and we do go inside. We’re very comfortable with our post players, and we just get the ball to the open man,’ said Lewis, who had seven points along with returning Nanooks Jacqueline Lovato (senior forward) and Benissa Bulaya, a sophomore guard who had a night-best six assists.
Head coach Cody Burgess said the guards aren’t yet the heart of the team, but she said, “They’re definitely a big piece of the puzzle.”
“I think there’s definitely some skills,” Burgess said. “We have some speed and we have some great ballhandling right now. I think it’s just trying to get them to make the right reads in reading the defense.”
Returning senior post player and guard Taylor Altenburg had a game-high 22 points, and returning sophomore guard Kelly Logue chipped in eight points.
“We definitely have a great diverse group of kids this year,” Altenbur said. “We have wonderful people, great guards and great people down low.
“Overall, I think we’re going to be a great team this year,” she added. “We’re a team to look out for because we’re ready to come and work hard and kick some butt this year.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.