FAIRBANKS — The Alaska men’s basketball has done twice what no other team in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference has done in the past two years — beat No. 15 Western Washington Vikings.
The Nanooks beat the Vikings 65-61 at the Patty Center on Saturday, proving that the team’s upset win at Western Washington last year had been more than a mere fluke.
No other GNAC team has beaten Western Washington since Montana State Billings toppled the Vikings in the 2011-12 GNAC tournament in March 2012 — the Vikings went on to win the Division II National Championship that year. The Nanooks have beaten them two years in a row.
“We did it a second time in our building,” said coach Mick Durham after the game. “I’d say this one feels pretty good at the moment”
The Nanooks controlled the pace of the game, forcing the prolific visiting team’s offense, which averaged 90 points per game, to a mere 30 points in the first half.
The Nanooks led throughout the first half Saturday, holding the Vikings to two points during a span of about five minutes while scoring 10. But the Vikings would close the gap and by half time the Nanooks’ lead had been reduced to one point.
“There was a stint where we couldn’t score so it was really big for us to play defense,” said Nanooks forward Andrew Kelly. “If we’re not scoring points then we need to make sure they’re not scoring points.”
In addition to stopping the Vikings’ attack and controlling the pace of the game, the Nanooks defense created multiple scoring opportunities. Alaska scored 21 points off turnovers, nearly tripling the Vikings’ 8.
“Right now we’re hanging our hat on the defensive end,” Durham said.
Kelly helped the home team stay even on the boards, contributing a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Center Sergej Pucar provided an early game spark, draining two three-pointers and leading the team with 16 points.
Vikings starting guard Richard Woodworth went down holding his ankle with 16 minutes left in the game and had to be helped off by coaching staff. He would not return, scoring 6 points in the loss.
The Nanooks led by 14 points with eight minutes left, but would allow the Vikings to battle to within striking distance. With 58 seconds left in the game Western Washington was down two.
The Vikings fouled on the ensuing possession and got the rebound when Nanooks guard Joe Slocum missed his first free throw. The team called its last timeout to prepare a play and went on the offensive but Vikings guard Alfred Davis lost the ball and the Nanooks were able to hold on.
The Nanooks had been playing zone defense all night, but switched to man just before the drive by Western.
“With 30 seconds to go we came out of the zone and went man, and were gonna win it with our man,” Durham said. “They thought we were going to be zoning and they turned it over with Slocum’s steal.”
With their four point win Saturday, the Nanooks proved they could play with the best teams in the GNAC and restored much-needed confidence as they prepare to travel to play 11th ranked Seattle Pacific University on Thursday.
“We gotta play better on the road,” Durham said. “We’ve established some pretty good home court so far and now you have to turn around and play a team that was favored to win the league in SPU so it doesn’t get easier, but now everybody in the league has a loss so it’s going to be a battle I think through the next eight, nine weeks.”
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520.