The University of Alaska Fairbanks women’s basketball team made adjustments against Converse College on Friday and made its way into today’s championship game of its Mt. McKinley Bank North Star Invitational.
The Nanooks surged to a 63-33 win over the Valkyries, of Spartanburg, South Carolina, on the second day of the three-day, four-team tournament on the Alaska Airlines Court in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Patty Center.
The North Star Invitational features a round-robin format, and the Nanooks and the Lake Erie College Storm are each 2-0 in the tournament.
And coincidentally, their game at 3 p.m. today is the title contest.
“I love this team and every day, we have wanted to play in the championship game. It’s awesome to play for the championship,” said senior guard Kylie Wallace, who contributed five rebounds and two points for the Nanooks on Friday.
The Storm, of Painesville, Ohio, gained the title opportunity with a 71-59 win over the Chadron (Nebraska) State Eagles earlier Friday.
The Nanooks, in the first quarter Friday, adjusted to a slow start, as they led only 9-7 by the end of the quarter. They also adjusted to not having steady-scoring guard Jocelyn Gandara picking up three illegal-contact at the 7:18 mark of the quarter.
“Even though Jos had three fouls, I think we adjusted pretty well on our defense,” said freshman guard Sam Tolliver, who provided seven points, seven rebounds and three assists Friday.
Gandara, though, was one of three Nanooks with double-digit points Friday. She had 10 points and seven rebounds before fouling out.
Senior guard Sabrina Ungaro scored a game-high 15 points and distributed six assists, also a game high. Fellow senior guard Brittany Richards chipped in 13 points and grabbed a game-best 10 rebounds for the Nanooks.
“We played with a lot of heart. We’re trying to make a statement,” said Tolliver, who had a career-high 31 points in Thursday’s 87-73 win over Chadron State.
“This year, everyone thought we were going to be an underdog. We’re trying to prove them wrong.”
The Nanooks, of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, improved to 5-3 overall Friday. It’s one more win than they had in 26 games last season, which was the first for Kerri Nakamoto as head coach.
The Nanooks made a statement defensively on Friday, particularly in the second quarter. UAF limited Converse to three points, all on free throws, while scoring 20 points en route to a 29-10 lead at half-time.
The defensive momentum carried over into the third quarter, where the Nanooks led 47-21.
““We did a really good job of posting and staying straight up. They were trying to go inside on us,” Nakamoto said. “Not fouling or giving them easy layups. They had to take tough shots.”
A 3-point play by Valkyries junior guard Lindsey Rogers evened the score at 7 with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
That was the Conference Carolinas team’s last serious threat to UAF, which went ahead for good with junior guard Zosha Krupa’s jump shot with 34.7 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“Well, it’s a series of we’ve got to be able to make layups,” Valkyries head coach Jim Brunelli. “After we tied it 7-7, we missed three consecutive wide-open baskets. With a team like them (UAF), you can’t miss easy baskets.”
Freshman center Sierra Davenport and redshirt senior guard Bhrianna Jackson each scored six points to lead Converse, 1-7. Davenport also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Lake Erie – Chadron St.
Josie Chaddock produced game highs of 25 points and six assists to go with seven rebounds, and Lake Erie overcome a first-quarter deficit to beat Chadron State.
The Storm trailed 16-14 in the first quarter and squeezed ahead 28-27 before halftime.
Breanna Bauer contributed 18 points and Lainey Billing gathered a team-high nine rebounds for Lake Erie, of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
Lake Erie is 2-0 in the tournament after starting the season 0-7.
Melisa Kadic had a team-high 16 points and contributed seven rebounds for the Eagles, of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Taryn Foxen led Chadron State (1-7) with 11 rebounds and she scored eight points.
The Nanooks were outscored 53-22 in the second half and lost 95-45 to the Northern Michigan Wildcats in Friday’s opening game of the Seawolf Thanksgiving Classic in the Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Junior guard Ousman Basir Gomez Jr., after coming off the bench, led the Nanooks with 10 points, which included 8-for-11 shooting at the free-throw line. No other UAF player scored in double figures.
Junior guard Shadeed Shabazz and freshman forward/center Mawich Kachjaani were the team’s next highest scorers with seven points apiece. Shabeez also collected seven rebounds, which matched Northern Michigan freshman guard/forward Xzavier Jones for the game high.
Guards Noah Parcher (freshman) and Sam Taylor (senior) each scored 14 points and redshirt sophomore forward Dolapo Olayinka had 11 for the Wildcats, of Marquette, Michigan, and the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The Nanooks face the Michigan Tech Huskies, also of the GLIAC, at 5:15 p.m. today.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.