Mission Impossible: Alaska Wins GNAC Men's Basketball Title
Alaska limited Central Washington to 38.6 percent from the field to win the GNAC championship. Pghoto by Ron Smith.
Alaska limited Central Washington to 38.6 percent from the field to win the GNAC championship. Pghoto by Ron Smith.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

LACEY, Wash. – The No. 10 seed. Seven available players. An 8-14 record entering the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships.

So what?

Alaska pulled off the most improbable of tournament runs Saturday night, outscoring No. 5 seed Central Washington 45-29 in the second half to beat the Wildcats 72-57 and win the championship Saturday at Marcus Pavilion.

The Nanooks (12-14) won the program’s third men’s basketball championship and their first in the tournament era, last winning the GNAC championship in 2003 and 2005. They will earn the GNAC’s automatic qualifying berth to the NCAA Division II Championships.

Senior guard Shadeed Shabazz was named the tournament MVP after he averaged 28 points and 4.3 steals in the Nanooks’ four games. He finished the night with 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals. Sophomore forward Abdullahi Mohamed finished with 15 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Senior guard Koby Huerta added 10 points while senior forward Coleman Sparling had eight points and 11 rebounds.

Junior forward Matt Poquette led all scorers with 25 points to go with seven rebounds, making 12 of 18 from the field. He was the only CWU player to score in double figures. Senior guards Xavier Smith and Amari Stafford each scored nine points. Central Washington is now 17-9 overall and will now wait to see if they earn an at-large selection to the national tournament when the Selection Show airs on Sunday night.

From the opening tip, Alaska showed that its fourth game in four days had little effort on the team’s energy. The Nanooks opened the game with a 7-2 lead on a jumper by junior guard Jahvonta Jones. Mohamed built the advantage to 14-7 on his jumper at the 10:55 mark and took their biggest lead of the period, 20-12, on Shabazz’s lay-in with 7:25 left.

Central Washington went on a 14-4 run to close out the first half, tying the game at 25-25 on Poquette’s lay-up with 1:34 to go. Junior forward Willie Thomas III put the Nanooks up by two before Smith added another buzzer-beater to the tournament, hitting an incredible heave from three-quarters court to give the Wildcats the 28-27 lead at the break.

While the Wildcats shot 44 percent from the field in the first half, the Nanooks clamped down on defense in the second to limit CWU to 34.4 percent from the field. The score was tied at 34-34 when freshman guard Tyreen Sturm started a 7-0 run with a three-pointer that put Alaska up 41-37 on Shabazz’s short-range jumper with 13:30 to go.

Central bounced back, coming back within three points on a Poquette dunk with 10:59 remaining. The Nanooks went on a 7-0 run over the next two minutes, which ended on Sparling’s jumper to build a 52-42 lead with 8:32 left. Jones provided the Nanooks a 14-point lead when he connected on two free throws with 5:21 left. The Wildcats never got closer than 12 points down the stretch with Mohamed providing the biggest lead of the game, 72-54, with 20 seconds left.