Even though the Seawolves tonight will wear turquoise uniforms for the first time at the Great Alaska Shootout, they can’t alter their identity on the court.
They must keep an even keel when facing fourth-ranked Utah and not get caught up in the moment and do something out of character.
“We’ve talked about it in practice, to do what we do. We’re not changing our game plan or nothing like that,” UAA guard Jazzpher Evans said. “We’re just focused on our principles and playing the style of basketball we’ve always played.”
Easier said than done against a Pac-12 powerhouse that boasts a fabulous frontcourt led by NCAA First Team All-American Alissa Pili of Anchorage and Pac-12 First Team selection Gianna Kneepkens.
Despite the NCAA Division II Seawolves being a major underdog, they are prepared to give the Utes a hard-fought game in the face of long odds.
“Everyone has a plan till you get punched in the face,” UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said with a smile.
ASRC/ConocoPhillips Great Alaska Shootout
At Alaska Airlines Center
5:15pm EKU (4-0) vs UAB (2-0)
7:30pm #4 Utah (2-1) vs UAA (2-1)
5:15pm Third Place
The 6-foot-2 Pili and 6-foot Kneepkens are among eight players six feet or taller for the Utes. They got two more players at 5-11. Utah’s tallest player is 6-foot-8 Néné Sow.
That superior size worries McCarthy.
The Utes are outrebounding opponents by a wide 50-26 margin, including a Pac-12 best 20 offensive boards per game.
“We can’t throw bodies out there that we’re going to see Saturday,” he said. “What they run isn’t necessarily different than what we’ve seen from a tactical standpoint and so the biggest different between their level and ours is that size and speed, so hopefully we’re able to adjust to that at some point of the game.”
We are thrilled to honor Alaska Native culture and celebrate Native Heritage Month by wearing our new @NikeN7 uniforms in tomorrow’s @ASRC_AK @COP_Alaska Great Alaska Shootout. https://t.co/ThHu6hZAjj@GNACsports @AKSportsReport @uaanchorage @UAASeawolves pic.twitter.com/H6R5WR2iHb
— UAA WBB (@UAAWBB) November 17, 2023
The Seawolves will unveil customized turquoise Nike N7 uniforms tonight in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
“We take great pride in representing our state, so to be able to honor Alaska’s Native heritage in this way is extremely humbling,” McCarthy said. “We have changed our Great Alaska Shootout from a tournament in Alaska to an Alaskan basketball tournament, and to have the N7 brand isn’t just opening eyes to the program, but to the state.
“This helps kids understand what N7 is and what it is about. From villages with 100 people to our city of 300,000, this is incredibly important.”
UAA’s lone local Alaska player Elaina Mack is from King Cove, a small town on the Aleutian Chain with around 750 residents.
Pili’s mom, Heather, has Alaska Native roots in Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), a hoops hotbed and the northernmost American city located above the arctic circle with a population of 5,000.
Pili, of Dimond High fame, is averaging 22 points on 24-of-29 shooting from the field and 14-of-20 from the charity stripe.
Four days ago, she had 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting against 21st-ranked Baylor and nearly brought the Utes back from a nine-point deficit on the road.
The former four-time Cook Inlet Conference MVP and three-time Alaska Player of the Year is a three-tier scoring machine, shooting 83% from the field, 57% from 3-point range and 70% from the line.
Utah forward Alissa Pili is so good and deserves so much more attention/respect. She’s shooting (24-29) to start the season and is averaging (22.0) points on (83%) shooting. One of the big reasons Utah has been so good. #NCAAW | @UTAHWBB pic.twitter.com/eGaEmvYKSX
— Women’s Hoopz (@WBBWorldWide) November 15, 2023
With 1,504 career points, Pili needs 16 to pass former Kansas State standout Brit Jacobson (1,519) of Chugiak for eighth on Alaska’s all-time college scoring list.
Kneepkens is averaging a career-high 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Utah returned its big guns from last year’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 run, losing to eventual national champion LSU. For UAA to get a chance to play a bona fide national title contender is what the Shootout is all about.
UAA’s plan is to simply play hard.
“We can be afraid and make mistakes and be intimidated, or we can play our style and play as hard as we can,” said McCarthy.
In his 13th season as the Seawolves’ bench boss, this isn’t the first time his teams have matched up with a national power.
“We played Duke three times in exhibition games and one was a 31-point loss,” McCarthy said. “Looking at the box score, I told Hannah Wandersee ‘You had 19 points and 10 rebounds against a ranked team,’ and she became an All-American that year.
“You can take certain things from a game like that that can make you a better player, and I think that moment changed Hannah Wandersee. We might get that kind of a silver lining from this game.”
The Seawolves enter the Shootout fresh off a successful trip to Honolulu, where they beat Hawaii Pacific 66-48 and Hawaii Hilo 78-50.
UAA has won 40 Shootout games since 1980 and captured the tournament title six times, including last year. Four players are back from that team in Kate Robertson, Vishe’ Rabb, Evans and Mack.
“We’re going to be locked in,” Mack said.
The Seawolves own a 15-point winning margin, outscoring their opponents by an average of 73-58.
They lead the GNAC in 3-point percentage (.409) and steals per game (13.3). They also take care of the ball with a plus-6 turnover margin.
UAA’s top two scorers are Evans (15.7) and Tori Hollingshead (13.7) while Mack (8.3) and Senya Rabouin (8.0) are close to double figures.
Mack, a former Class 1A Player of the Year, is coming off the bench to average career highs in scoring, rebounding (3.0) and minutes (19). The 5-foot-8 guard is a career 38% 3-point shooter and is hitting at a 7-for-14 clip this year.
“Success for us is that we competed the whole weekend,” Evans said.
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