FAIRBANKS-Thursday night was senior night for the Nanook men's basketball team and it was fitting that a senior ended the game with a shot that will be remembered by the senior class for a long time. Andrew Kelly gathered a bobbled pass from fellow senior Ronnie Baker and banked an off-balanced five foot shot at the horn to give UAF a 70-68 win over rival UAA.
Alaska's six seniors: Kelly, Dallen Bills, Ronnie Baker, Mike Stepovich, Sergej Pucar and Stefan Tica were honored before the tip-off of their last home game.
The Seawolves were looking to be spoilers. They came in off a 96-77 win over Western Oregon where they hit 27 treys. UAA's shooter still had it going in the first half against the Nooks. UAA went 6-11 from deep and were 50 percent from the field. They led 29-17 in the first half but the Nanooks made a run.
UAF got back into thanks to a 12-0 run. Kelly put the exclamation point on the run with a two-handed throw down after a scrabble for a loose ball wound up in his hands. His dunk made 29-29. However, the Seawolves took a 31-29 lead into the locker rooms after a Brad Mears shots with 9.8 seconds left.
The Seawolves established themselves in the second half first. They continued to hit threes and attacked the paint more finishing contact layups around the rim. The energy and shot making of the Seawolves was rewarded with another double digit lead. Kyle Fossman and Colton Lauwers were force during UAA's second half surge. Fossman finished 15 points and Lauwers had 14 points.
Teancum Stafford put in his two cents grabbing a Brian McGill pass from the air throw it down for the alley-oop. UAA lead 63-50 with about six minutes remaining. But once gain the Nanooks rallied and chipped away at their second double digit deficit.
Junior Solcum got things started with three ball to make it a 65-59 game. Slocum finished with 15 timely points for the Nanooks. Then senior Mike Stepovich brought UAF with a three of his own. Stepovich had seven points and six rebounds in 24 minutes. He played a bulk of his time in the second half.
Baker made game UAF their first lead since the 16:28 of the first half with a tough high arching layup in the paint that put the Nooks up 66-65 with under a minute to go. The senior had a game high 18 points.
It looked to be all but over as Kelly blocked a layup attempt by Fossman and Baker corraled the loose ball and was fouled. Baker nailed both free throws and Alaska was up 68-65 with 24 seconds remaining.
Travis Thompson of UAF though gave Alaska flashbacks from last Thursday's Western Oregon loss where the Wolves hit a three with 4.8 left to give the Wolves a win. Thompson collected a loose ball after Fossman's miss, pumped faked a defender and stepped back for a three on the left arc and it was pure. Thompson who also had 15 for UAA ties it 68-68 with 10.8 seconds left.
The Nanooks have to go the length of the court and after a timeout they put the ball in Baker's had. Baker navigated through the Seawolves full court press drove in from the top of the key. He continued to drive into the lane but was met by two Seawolves as he tried what would've been a tough layup to make. Baker had the presence of mind to dump it down to Kelly who was trailing behind him. Kelly grabbed the pass quickly put up the shot from the left block while off unbalanced. The shot banked in and Kelly was swarmed by his teammates as the Patty Center filled with electricity and shock.
Kelly finished with 14 points and a career high 18 rebounds on senior night. The 70-68 win was truly meaningful for the Nanooks. The win stops a 16 game losing streak to UAA. The last time Alaska defeated UAA was Jan. 28, 2006. That was a 76-73 win for UAF in the Patty Center.
With the win Alaska clinches the third seed in the GNAC Championship Tournament. UAA will be the fourth seed.