FAIRBANKS—The Alaska Nanooks men’s basketball team is ready for Great Northwest Athletic Conference play despite suffering back-to-back losses on the road last weekend.
The Nanooks play host to the nationally-ranked Seattle Pacific University Falcons at 7 tonight in the Patty Center and face the Montana State-Billings Yellowjackets on Alaska’s home court at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Nanooks, 4-3 overall, had hoped the momentum of capturing the title in their GCI Alaska Invitational, played Nov. 15-17, would carry over to the Chuck Randall Thanksgiving Classic in Bellingham, Wash.
The Nanooks instead came away empty from the home court of conference rival and defending NCAA Division II national champion Western Washington. Alaska lost 91-63 to Southwest Baptist of Missouri on Friday and fell 65-60 to Concordia-St. Paul of Minnesota on Saturday.
“We did a nice job with our tournament but we stumbled last week,” Alaska head coach Mick Durham said by telephone Wednesday night. “We were hoping to at least get a split, but it is what it is.
“I think the seven (overall) games we’ve played have got as ready as we’ll possibly be,” Durham said. “We’ve got a big game right out of the chute, and we’re looking forward to getting two GNAC games under our belts.”
Seattle Pacific is ranked 13th in this week’s National Association of Basketball Coaches poll of D-II teams and third-year head coach Ryan Looney’s Falcons are 5-1 following a 1-1 finish at the Mac Martin Invitational in Chico, Calif. SPU, then ranked seventh, lost *60-55 Friday to San Francisco State and rolled to a 79-47 win Saturday over then No. 16 Chico State.
The Nanooks emphasized shooting and rebounding to prepare for Seattle Pacific, which leads the GNAC in defense with an average of 55.3 points allowed per game. The Nanooks rank ninth in the *10-team conference with a 71.9 average.
“We’ve got to work hard on our man-to-man offense and we’ve got to execute defensively,” Durham said. “We’ve tried to shore things up and work on rebounding, and they’re (Falcons) hard to guard.”
Tonight’s contest features two of the top five rebounders in the GNAC. Sergei Pucar, the Nanooks’ 6-foot-11 junior center, ranks fifth with 7.9 per game, while Seattle Pacific’s Riley Stockton, a 6-4 sophomore guard, is fourth at an 8.3 clip.
A pair of 6-2 guards lead their respective teams in scoring heading into tonight’s matchup. Seattle Pacific junior David Downs is averaging 13.5 points and Alaska senior Dominique Brinson is averaging 12 points.
On Saturday, the Nanooks will encounter a Montana State-Billings squad that’s wrapping up a 12-day, 8,800-mile trip to the 50th and 49th States.
The 4-2 Yellowjackets, before they enter the Patty Center, will have opened GNAC play at 25th-ranked Alaska Anchorage on Thursday after posting a 67-61 win at Hawaii Hilo on Nov. 21 and falling *97-92 two days later to BYU-Hawaii in Laie.
Montana State-Billings also has won five of its last six games against the Nanooks, including a sweep last season. The Nanooks lost 95-70 in Billings last Jan. 7 and 75-64 at the Patty Center on Feb. 2.
“It was their coach’s (Jamie Stevens) first year and they really came on at the end,” Durham said.
“They probably pressure the most defensively of anybody in the league. We’ve got to handle their defense,” Durham said. “They probably look to run as much as anybody in the league, and you’ve got to get and get your defense set.”
Jarrell Crayton, a 6-7 senior forwards, leads the Yellowjackets in scoring (14.3) and 6-3 junior guard/forward Robby Trabing is their leading rebounder (6.3).
Following the conference openers, Alaska has a two-week break before playing host to Multnomah University of Portland, Ore., in a regular-season contest Dec. 17 and an exhibition Dec. 18. Each game starts at 7:30 p.m.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.