FAIRBANKS—The Alaska Nanooks women’s basketball team experienced a rarity Thursday night: They led in the second half of a game for the first time this season.
Unfortunately, the hosts of the Mt. McKinley Bank North Star Invitational at the Patty Center didn’t get experience their first win of the season.
The Nanooks lost 85-79 to the Upper Iowa University Peacocks after holding 11-point leads twice in the second half of the late game on the opening night of three-day, round robin tournament.
“I think that a lot of kids contributed really well and we’re really trying to step up our defense ... definitely got it back but we didn’t pull it out in the end,” Alaska head coach Cody Burgess said in the postgame media conference in the Nanook Lounge.
Alaska, 0-4, plays tonight against the Anderson Trojans, who lost 61-46 to the Winona State Warriors in Thursday’s early game. Upper Iowa tips off in today’s matinee against Winona State, a rival in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
The Nanooks enjoyed leads of 64-53 with 10:11 left in the second half, courtesy of a layup from 19-point scorer and team-high rebounder Taylor Altenburg. A jump shot by Marissa Atoruk, who contributed five points off of the bench, made it 66-55 withwith 9:04 remaining.
The Nanooks trailed by five (41-36) at halftime and their second-half surge began with a 3-point basket from Teanna Boxley for a 48-46 lead with 15:35 left in the game. It was a team-high 20 points for the junior guard and it was Alaska’s first lead of the night, triggering an 8-1 run for the next two minutes.
“We battled hard and we proved that we could come back from being down,” said Altenburg, a senior guard/post player who had nine rebounds. “We had a great lead at one point. We just now need to build off that spark, knowing that we had that lead and that ability to get stops and get ahead.”
The Nanooks thrived with their pressure defense on the way to the lead and while they were ahead of the 3-1 Peacocks. Alaska then saw Upper Iowa conjure its pressure, gradually helping the visitors rally.
As Upper Iowa was building up on both ends of the court, Alaska’s effort was slipping.
“When our offense isn’t doing well, a lot of times we tend to break down defensively,” said Boxley, who also had a game-high four steals. “We were not understanding at that time that our defense is our offense, and we accumulate our offense from our defense.”
Upper Iowa head coach Carol Russell said her team’s pressure defense, particularly in the half court, has been the Peacocks’ bread and butter this season, but she didn’t want to resort it too early against the Nanooks.
“We’re playing three games in a row and we didn’t want to go to it if we didn’t have to,” Russell said.
“It seemed to be working for us as we got our best player, Whitney Kieffer, going.”
Kieffer, a sophomore guard, scored a game-high 22 points, including a fast-break layup for a 73-69 Peacocks lead with 4:58 remaining.
“We kind of slowed down a bit after we were worked up at first with all the pressure. We started making better passes,” said Kieffer, who also had team bests of nine rebounds and three steals.
Alaska cut Upper Iowa’s lead to 75-74 with April Fultz’s free throw, one of 18 points from the junior guard, with 2:51 to go. However, Kieffer’s free throw and a 3-point shot by 20-point scorer Lindsay Carroll put the Peacocks ahead 79-74 at the 2:08 mark. Carroll’s night included an 8-for-8 effort at the line, continuing the sophomore guard’s 100-percent free-throw shooting for the season (24 for 24).
Junior guard Destini Lewis of Alaska and Sam Thrapp of Upper Iowa each had game highs of seven assists.
Katie Wolff scored 15 of her game-high 19 points from 3-point range and Winona State built on a 10-point lead at halftime to defeat the Trojans.
The Warriors of Minnesota also got 15 points from Becca Friestleben and 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds from Michelle Tobin.
Abby Busch contributed nine points and seven rebounds for Winona State (3-1).
Anderson, which trailed 38-28 at halftime, was led by Alissa Diaz’s 17 points and game-high five assists.
Tilde Ahlin chipped in 10 points for the 2-3 Trojans of South Carolina and her six rebounds matched Breonda Shannon for the team high.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.