Jocelyn Gandara hoped her 3-point shot attempt from the right wing in overtime would be good.
So did the rest of the University of Alaska Fairbanks women’s basketball team and 152 fans for the Nanooks’ conference-opening game against the Western Oregon Wolves in the UAF Patty Center.
The junior guard’s hope became reality and was a huge part of an 81-76 victory for the Nanooks.
Gandara, on the way to a game-high 27 points, sank the trey with 14.1 seconds left in OT to put the Nanooks ahead 78-76 and for good.
Western Oregon junior guard Keyonna Jones, who scored a team-high 20 points, had given the Wolves a 76-75 lead with a free throw with 1:05 left in OT.
“I was like, ‘I hope this goes in. Please go in,’” Gandara said during the postgame media conference.
“It felt really good hitting that,” she added.
Junior guard Zosha Krupa made a free-throw with 6.2 seconds left for a 79-76 lead and redshirt senior guard Sabrina Ungaro canned two free throws with 3-tenths of a second left to seal the win.
“It was like first-game jitters. First conference (game) and Western Oregon really wanted the revenge after last season,” said Krupa, a Sitka native who finished with seven points and four rebounds.
One of the Sitka native’s baskets was a 3-pointer which gave the Nanooks a 72-70 lead with 53.5 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“I believe in our teammates, I trust our teammates and I knew what they were capable of doing,” Krupa said. “I just felt like my teammates trusted me when I had the ball and took the shot.
Gandara, who’s from El Paso, Texas, and transferred to UAF from Lassen College in Susanville, California, is among six this season’s on the Nanooks’ 11-player roster. The newcomers, though, knew that Western Oregon, of Monmouth, Oregon, was UAF’s only conference win last season, which was Kerri Nakamoto’s first as head coach.
The Nanooks finished 4-22 overall and 1-19 in GNAC games last season.
Thursday’s game was a confidence builder for a Nanooks squad which improved to 6-4 overall and 1-0 GNAC.
“Seeing the record now and last year (season) ... Of course, in the beginning (of the season) we’re winning games and we played against some decent teams,” Gandara said.
“But being able to start (the first GNAC game of the season) and beat the same team we beat last year, that was definitely like, ‘OK, we can do this. We did last year; we can do it even better this year.’ ‘‘
Nanooks freshman guard Sam Tolliver, before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, scored 18 points, with 12 from 3-point range.
Brittany Richards contributed 10 points and fellow senior guard Kylie Wallace had seven rebounds for the Nanooks, who were tied at 17 in the first quarter and trailed 43-34 at halftime and 56-45 after the third quarter.
“There was a minute where we’d hit a big shot, they’d hit a big shot,” Nakamoto said. “It was just back and forth, and it was, ‘OK, who’s going to rise above this?’”
“But we stuck in there and stayed positive. We came back from being down a decent amount. We just took it possession for possession, and I think it shows a lot about this team.
“We’ve done that a couple of times this year ... their toughness and their ability to step up in big moments.”
Western Oregon head coach Holli Howard Carpenter said, “Both teams wanted to win — flat out.”
“And both teams were battling,” she added. “We personally missed too many 3s and had too many turnovers down the stretch. That was the difference in the game.”
Western Oregon, 2-5 overall and 0-1 GNAC, shot 6 for 15 (40%) in 3 pointers and UAF was 9 for 24 (37.5%). The Nanooks finished 28 for 74 (37.8%) in field goals and the Wolves were 26 for 58 (44.8%).
Turnover wise, the Nanooks had 15 to the Wolves’ 24.
Jones was among four players in double figures for Western Oregon. The Wolves got 14 points from freshman guard Cali McClave, 13 from junior guard Olivia Denton and 12 from sophomore guard Rachel Rogers. Shariah Green, a senior forward/center, contributed a game-high 11 rebounds.
UAF hosts the Concordia Cavaliers, of Portland, Oregon, in a GNAC game at 1 p.m. Saturday. Western Oregon, on Saturday, visits the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves, who beat the Cavaliers 79-52 Thursday night.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.