FAIRBANKS — Head coach Cody Burgess sees promise in this season’s edition of the Alaska Nanooks women’s basketball team. She also sees some things that need improvement following an 87-73 loss to the Colorado School of Mines in Saturday night’s season-opening game in the Patty Center.
Burgess was impressed with how the guard-rich Nanooks managed their full-court trapping defense, but she wasn’t happy that the Orediggers from Golden, Colo., were able to generate several scoring opportunities.
“We’ve got to take that away,” Burgess said during the postgame media conference in the Nanook Lounge.
“Overall, I think it’s a different team this year,” she said. “We’ve got to make some adjustments, we have to focus on improving our weaknesses, and I think this is a team with the maturity and the passion to to do that.”
The Nanooks finished 6-22 overall last season, including 2-16 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
The Nanooks’ leading scorers Saturday were two returners — senior guard/post Taylor Altenburg and sophomore guard Benissa Bulaya — and a pair of junior college transfers — guards April Fultz and Destini Lewis.
Altenburg and Bulaya scored 15 points apiece; Fultz contributed 14 points; and Lewis’s 12 points all came from 3-point range.
Seven of Altenburg’s points came from the free-throw line and the remaining eight were courtesy of drives to the basket.
“I can’t do any of that without my teammates and the guards,” said Altenburg, who also had seven rebounds. “They handled the pressure really well bringing it up the court. We’ve got a good group of girls this year and we’re really passionate, and I’m just excited to continue the season.
“This game really showed us what we need to work on and we’re definitely going to capitalize on that,” Altenburg said.
Fultz, who came from San Bernardino Valley College in her home state of California, was a portrait of passion for the Nanooks. At 5-foot-6, she collected a team-high eight rebounds while battling against talle players. Colorado School of Mines had four players at 6 feet or taller while the
6-foot Altenburg was the tallest Nanook Saturday.
Fultz also hustled for a steal at the game-ending buzzer. The junior from Rialto, Calif., finished with three steals, while Bulaya had a game-high eight and sophomore guard Kelly Logue had three takeways to accompany her six points and six rebounds.
“Coach just said play hard so I could finish, and that’s what we needed to do,” Fultz said.
Colorado School of Mines shot 43.1 percent (28 for 65) from the field and 76.3 percent (29 for 38) at the free-throw line in the Patty Center one night after its 80-76 upset at Alaska Anchorage, which is ranked 22nd among NCAA Division II programs. The Nanooks finished at 35.7 percent from the field (25 for 70) and 57.1 percent at the line (16 for 28).
Alaska grabbed a 5-0 lead, aided by its pressure, but Colorado School of Mines gradually adjusted, helping it take a 37-31 lead into the halftime break.
“We just had to get our guards open so we could use our bigs to set screens for them,” said Orediggers head coach Brittany Simpson.
Colorado School of Mines also boxed out well for rebounds, finishing with a 58-38 advantage. Orediggers junior forward Allie Grazulis, a Colony High School graduate, accounted for a game-high 20 rebounds, and the 5-11 native of Palmer dropped in a game-high 22 points, including a pair of reverse of layups in the second half.
“She’s a warrior. She does all the things you ask a kid to do,” Simpson said.
The Orediggers also got 18 points from junior guard Courtney Gallo and 11 from sophomore guard Danielle Skinner.
Saturday’s game summary will be published in Monday’s Daily News-Miner.
The Nanooks head to the San Francisco Bay Area this coming weekend, taking on the Academy of Art in San Francisco on Friday and California State East Bay in Hayward on Saturday. Alaska returns home for the Mt. McKinley Bank North Star Invitational on Nov. 22-24, respectively facing Upper Iowa, Anderson Univesity of South Carolina, and Winona State of Minnesota.