The University of Alaska Fairbanks had more players than Saint Martin’s Saints — 11-7 — in Saturday afternoon’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference men’s basketball game at the UAF Patty Center.
The Nanooks, though, had fewer points than the Saints when the game ended.
UAF lost 81-75 after leading the visitors from Lacey, Washington for most of the contest on the Alaska Airlines Court.
“We had the lead for 37 minutes, 24 seconds,’’ Nanooks head coach Greg Sparling said after the postgame media conference.
The Saints’ time with the lead was 1 minute, 54 seconds, all near the end of the game.
Earlier Saturday at the Patty Center, the UAF women defeated Saint Martin’s 82-73.
The Nanooks men’s team entered Saturday’s game coming off Thursday’s 83-77 home win over Seattle Pacific, giving the GNAC-leading Falcons their first conference loss of the season. The win also put the Nanooks in a tie for third place with Alaska Anchorage and Northwest Nazarene.
The top six men’s and women’s teams each in the NCAA Division II conference at the end of the regular season advance to the GNAC Championship Tournament on March 5-7 at Seattle Pacific’s Royal Brougham Pavilion.
Saturday’s setback dropped the Nanooks to 8-12 overall and 7-5 GNAC for a fifth-place tie with Western Oregon.
“I’m not making excuses — we had a big win on Thursday and a lot of our guys were living in the past,’’ Sparling said during the media conference. “If we’re going to be successful, we have to move forward.
“We need to get better prepared, and I’ll take responsibility, I’m the head coach here,’’ Sparling added.
When the Nanooks were in control Saturday, it showed in the atmosphere of the Patty Center.
For example, it was upbeat when the Nanooks carried a 34-23 lead into halftime. The Nanooks fans, with 7:56 left in the game, raised the roof after UAF went ahead by 12 (63-51) after a dunk by reserve junior guard Keshaun Howard.
“We were going with the game and playing together as a team,” junior guard Shadeed Shabazz said of things which worked for the Nanooks when they were in control.
“Great defense, good stops, limiting to one shot. Pushing it, don’t let them set up in their zone,’’ said Shabazz, who scored a game-high 29 points.
Shabazz was one point away from extending a streak of seven games which he scored in the 30-point neighborhood.
The Patty Center took on a hushed tone and fans started heading to the exits with 14 seconds left in the game, when CJ Jennings sank his seventh free throw of the game to put the Saints ahead 79-75 and for good.
“I think we know we should have had it, and we let one slip,’’ said junior forward Alex Sommerfield, who had a double-double of 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, for the Nanooks.
“We’ve just got to come back together, gettingb back to the basics and start doing the right things again.”
Junior point guard Koby Huerta contributed nine points and a game-high five assists for the Nanooks.
The Saints, in 10th place in the GNAC at 5-16 overall and 3-9 conference, outscored the Nanooks 9-6 in the last 1:54 of the game.
“It was just huge that we came back in the second half like that,’’ said redshirt junior forward/guard Logan Rooney, who scored 12 points for Saint Martin’s.
“We felt like we’ve been building recently, getting better and better.”
Marcus Lenker, who accounted for five of the Saints’ 12 baskets from behind the 3-point arc, led the team with 19 points. CJ Jennings, whose 7-for-9 free-throw shooting included six in the last 40 seconds of the game, finished with 16 points, and John Moore contributed 14 points.
The Nanooks ended the game with a 6-for-25 effort in 3-point shooting for 24% efficiency. The Saints ended at 12 fo 24 for 50% efficiency.
The Nanooks visit the Western Washington Vikings at 6 p.m. AKST Thursday in Bellingham, Washington, and take on the Simon Fraser Clan at the same time Saturday in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Responsibility helped the Nanooks end a 10-game slide in conference games.
“We had an intense practice yesterday (Friday), where we watched it and broke it down to just expose areas that we weren’t taking care of,’’ Nanooks head coach Kerri Nakamoto said during halftime of the men’s game.
“I think everybody bought into doing their jobs when they stepped on the floor, and I think that made all the difference.”
UAF, helped by four players with double-digit points, shot 43.5% from the field (30 for 69), while Saint Martin’s finished at 41.7% (25 for 60).
Junior guard Jocelyn Gandara produced team highs of 28 points and eight rebounds for the Nanooks, who improved to 7-14 overall and 2-10 GNAC for a ninth-place tie with Western Oregon and Concordia. The Nanooks were in last place after Thursday’s 64-41 home loss to Seattle Pacific.
Senior guard Brittany Richards contributed 17 points Saturday for UAF, while senior guard Sabrina Ungaro chipped in 15 points and a game-high four steals, and freshman guard Sam Tolliver added 12 points.
Bria Thames had a game-high 32 points for Saint Martin’s (9-10, 4-8 GNAC for eighth place). Claire Dingus had a double-double of 18 points and a game-best 10 rebounds for the Saints.
The Nanooks visit the Central Washington Wildcats at 4:15 p.m. AKST Thursday in Ellensburg, Washington, and face the Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks at 3:15 p.m. AKST Saturday in Nampa, Idaho.
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.