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Nanooks Down Rival Seawolves, Named Team of the Week
UAF head coach Mick Durahm (3rd from right) congratulates senior Ronnie Baker after he provided the assist on Andrew Kelly's buzzer-beating game-winner.
UAF head coach Mick Durahm (3rd from right) congratulates senior Ronnie Baker after he provided the assist on Andrew Kelly's buzzer-beating game-winner.
Senior Andrew Kelly focuses just before tossing in the game winner in a dramatic 70-68 triumph over rival Alaska Anchorage.
Senior Andrew Kelly focuses just before tossing in the game winner in a dramatic 70-68 triumph over rival Alaska Anchorage.

Monday, March 3, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. – “One of our biggest goals each year is to beat Alaska Anchorage at their place and at ours,” Alaska Fairbanks men’s basketball head coach Mick Durham commented when asked about his team’s mindset heading into the 2013-14 season. “The first game we played this year, we weren’t close.”

Durham referred to a tough 96-76 loss to in-state rival UAA on Dec. 7, 2013, a road loss that left a bitter taste in UAF’s mouth to start conference play.

After the loss UAF won seven of its next eight games, and when the two teams met for a second time to close out the regular season on Thursday night in Fairbanks, the game ended in historic fashion.

Senior forward Andrew Kelly found himself with the ball five feet from the hoop with an alarmingly-small amount of time left on the clock. He released a shot, watched it cleanly stroke through the net as time expired, and threw his arms up as he was mobbed by teammates.

With a 70-68 triumph, the Nanooks had beaten UAA for the first time in eight years, and ended the 16-game losing streak to their rival that had been eating at Durham and his squad. “It’s not something we talked about very much before the game, but every time we play them we know it’s going to be mentioned in the article before and after the game,” Durham said commenting on the history between the teams. “Hopefully this win gets the rivalry going again, and it was huge for us to break their winning streak and get that over with.”

The flash of brilliance from Kelly wasn’t unprecedented, as his tip-in dunk earlier this season in a 60-56 win over Western Oregon came with 12 seconds left to break a tie. “Andrew is one guy who has had an all-league type season for us,” Durham said. “We have had different seniors step up on different nights, and I’m just happy for the (seniors) to get a win like that on Senior Night.”

While Kelly added the finishing touch, Durham credits fellow senior Ronnie Baker with setting up the game-winning shot. “Ronnie wanted to be involved with the final shot, so we put the ball into his hands and he drew a couple of defenders,” Durham said about the discussion immediately preceding the final play. “Ronnie showed a lot of poise to draw those guys and make the pass, and Andrew was heady enough to know the clock was close to zero and release the shot quickly.

“My hat’s off to coach Osborne and UAA, as winning eight years in a row is hard to do,” Durham said regarding his respect for UAA’s head coach Rusty Osborne and his program. “It really tells you how consistent they have been.”

While the win over UAA was a big enough accomplishment in itself, it also pushed UAF to the No. 3 seed in the upcoming GNAC Championships. “Just finishing third outright in the GNAC and only a game out of second place is great,” Durham said.

With the No. 3 seed, UAF will face a familiar foe in Montana State Billings, a team that the Seawolves have defeated twice already this season. “Any time you face someone for a third time, and its on a neutral court, anything can happen,” Durham said. “The main thing is just to keep guys fresh and excited to play, and I think each team is going to know one another very well.” 

UAF will square off against MSUB on Wednesday at noon Pacific time to kick off the 2013-14 GNAC Championships. The winner will move on to face No. 2 seed Western Washington in the second round on Thursday, but Durham and the Nanooks will first focus on the task at hand.

“We are fortunate that we had Saturday night off, and that gave our guys a couple of days to relax and recover,” Durham said about closing the regular season with a single game last week. “This really is the most important part of the season for us, and our guys have a lot of confidence.”

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