The Patty Center was still buzzing over the University of Alaska Fairbanks women’s basketball team’s overtime win against Western Oregon when the UAF men’s team took to the Alaska Airlines Court for its turn against the Wolves.
A repeat performance seemed unlikely. The 5-0 Wolves ranked second in the GNAC with 83.6 points per game and led the conference in free throw percentage (.797), field goal percentage (.542) and three-point percentage (.457).
Alaska was coming off a 1-7 nonconference stretch.
But despite the odds, the Nanooks delivered another show, coming back from a 16-point, second half deficit to win 72-66.
“This is the best feeling ever,” freshman center Mawich Kachjaani said after his first game in the Patty Center.
“You can see, you know, how everybody finally comes together and is excited for each other, even guys that didn’t even step on the court they were happy as well as if they played.”
The win puts the Nanooks at 2-7 overall and 1-0 GNAC. But for the Nanook’s the 1-0 is all that really matters.
“Now we are 1-0. We want to get into the top six, that’s our goal. Get to the GNAC playoffs,” head coach Greg Sparling said.
“It’s easy to give up when you lose five games in a row… But we all just came together even tighter and followed the game plan,” junior transfer Shadeed Shabazz said.
Shabazz led the Nanooks offensively, putting up 27 points (23 in the second half) on 12-for-18 shooting. The junior transfer made one of five three point attempts and two of four free throws. He also contributed to three of Alaska’s 11 assisted baskets.
Kachjaani followed Shabazz with 19 points. The center’s biggest contribution came from the three point line, where he made 11 of 12 shots. He also was 4-for-4 from the field and crashed the boards for a team-high nine rebounds (one offensive, eight defensive).
Alaska stuck with Western Oregon for 16 minutes, before the Wolves started to pull away.
A dunk by Jaquan Horne with one minute left in the first half and two last second free throws by Jaylyn Richardson put the Wolves ahead 38-31 heading into the break.
Alaska’s defense struggled in the first half, allowing the Wolves to finish the 20 minutes with 60% shooting from the field, including 24 points from the paint.
Alaska, finished the half with a 37.5%, 9-for-24 effort, but its 11-12 free throw shooting in the first half them in attacking distance.
Center Mawich Kachjaani lead the team in the first half with 14 points, going 4-for-4 from the field and making all six free throws.
The Nanooks dug themselves into a bigger hole in the second frame, trailing 49-33 with 14 minutes left in the game. But over the next 30 seconds the momentum started to shift.
Shabazz and Koby Huerta each made layups. And Shabazz made it a 10 point game when he made one of his four steals and turned it into a layup. The Nanooks continued chipping away, and grabbed a 57-55 lead with 6:43 left in the game on a three-pointer from point guard Jalon McCullough.
McCullough, a Monroe Catholic alum, played 13:54 minutes for Alaska in the second half.
“Jalon came in and was a little bit of a calming factor and got us into our stuff and got us good looks,” Sparling said.
The Wolves came back to tie the game twice but never pulled ahead. The Nanook defense held them to 39.3% shooting in the second half.
When Spencer Sweet pulled down a defensive rebound with 42 seconds remaining in the game to keep the Nanooks ahead 70-66, the Patty Center erupted. The cheers continued with Shabazz turned another steal into a layup to seal the win.
The Nanooks next host GNAC opponent Concordia University on Saturday at the Patty Center.
“We’ve already started scouting them. I’ll work through the night and work all day tomorrow and get these guys ready to go,” Sparling said.
Tip off is set for 3:15 p.m.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.