Nanooks Go OT With APU, Advance To Regional Final
Koby Huerta scored 20 points in the win for Alaska. That included five of the Nanooks' seven overtime points. Photo by Felisha Carrasco.
Koby Huerta scored 20 points in the win for Alaska. That included five of the Nanooks' seven overtime points. Photo by Felisha Carrasco.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – For the third time in the program history, Alaska will play for the West Region championship after the No. 8 seeded Nanooks outlasted No. 5 seeded Azusa Pacific in overtime, 72-71, in the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball West Region semifinals at Coussoulis Arena.

The Nanooks trailed most of the contest and did not take their first lead until sophomore forward Abdullahi Mohamed’s lay-in with 4:03 to go in the second half. The Nanooks led by five with a minute left, but the resilient Cougars battled back to tie it at 58-58 on McKelary Robertson’s three-pointer to force overtime.

Just like regulation, the Nanooks waited until late to take the lead, doing so on senior guard Koby Huerta’s running 15-footer with 1:01 left. Azusa Pacific had two chances to win it and went unable to put up a host in the final 21 seconds.

Senior guard Shadeed Shabazz led the Nanooks once again with 28 points on 12 of 19 from the field to go with seven rebounds, six steals and four assists. He scored 20 of his points in the second half and did not play in the overtime period after fouling out with 17 seconds left in regulation.

Mohamed and Huerta each finished with 20 points with Mohamed leading UAF with eight rebounds and Huerta scoring five of the Nanooks’ seven overtime points.

Ken West led Azusa Pacific with 29 points and seven rebounds. He made 9 of 11 from the field, 5 of 7 from three-point range and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line, but scored 22 of those points in the first half. Justin Hemsley finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and Terrence Becvar came off the bench for 10 points.

With the win, Alaska advances to face No. 3 seeded Chico State in the regional final on Monday at 7 p.m. The Nanooks evened their overall record to 14-14, are on a seven-game win streak and are now 9-2 on the season in neutral site games. Azusa Pacific sees its season end with a 21-9 record.

This will be the third-ever trip to the regional final for Alaska, all during the program’s GNAC era. The Nanooks last reached the final in 2005 as the No. 5 seed, falling to No. 3 Cal Poly Pomona 65-58. This is the first time that the No. 8 seed has reached the West Region final since the regional bracket expanded to eight teams in 2003.

Unlike the night before against Cal State San Marcos, Alaska was playing catch-up from the start. Azusa Pacific scored the first five points of the game and built the 11-5 advantage on Nate Kleppe’s dunk four minutes in. The Cougars were ahead 22-14 with 9:26 left when Mohamed’s lay-in sparked an 11-3 run, ending when Shabazz’s three-pointer with 5:17 left tied it at 25-25.

The Cougars went on a 6-0 run of their own over the next two minutes with West’s jumper making it s 31-25 game with 3:18 left. The Nanooks would bring the game back within one before pair of West free throws gave Azusa Pacific the 35-32 halftime lead.

Azuza Pacific opened the second half with an 11-4 run with Bevcar’s three-pointer at the 13:04 mark giving the Cougars their biggest lead of the game, 49-38. Alaska went on a 13-3 run of their own over the next five minutes, fueled by six points from Shabazz, whose fastbreak lay-in with 7:57 left made it a 52-51 game. The Nanooks would not take their first lead of the game until Mohamed connected on his lay-in with 4:03 left for a 56-55 advantage.

Shabazz built the UAF lead to 63-58 with his lay-in with 1:02 left, but APU succeeded in keeping the Nanooks from scoring from the field for the rest of regulation. Alaska took a 65-62 lead on two Mohamed free throws with 16 seconds left, but the Cougars raced down the floor and saw Robertson tie it on a three-pointer with eight seconds left. Huerta appeared to have the game won with a baseline jumper with one second left, but was called for traveling and the game went to overtime.

In the extra time, Huerta took over with Shabazz on the bench. His three-pointer with 2:13 left brought the Nanooks back to even at 70-70. After Hayden Gray made just one of two free throws for APU with 1:25 left, it was Huerta who connected on the next possession for what became the final score of the contest.