Nanooks' Miracle Postseason Ends In Regional Final
The loss ended Alaska's postseason win streak at seven games. The Nanooks end the season with a 14-15 overall record. Photo by Felisha Carrasco.
The loss ended Alaska's postseason win streak at seven games. The Nanooks end the season with a 14-15 overall record. Photo by Felisha Carrasco.

Monday, March 14, 2022

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – The magical ride is over.

After a string of seven postseason wins that saw Alaska rise from lowest seed to title contender, the Nanooks saw the run come to a close with a 70-52 loss to Chico State in the NCAA Men’s Basketball West Regional championship game at Coussoulis Arena.

Where the Nanooks have found every winning combination in the postseason, they could not find their shooting touch against a solid Wildcats’ squad. Alaska shot just 33.9 percent from the field for the game and 26.3 percent from three-point range. They were limited to 25.9 percent from the field in the first half and went to the free-throw line just once in the final 20 minutes.

Senior forward Coleman Sparling led the Nanooks in his final game with 13 points and seven rebounds, connecting on 4 of 5 from the field and 3 of 4 from three-point range. Senior guard Koby Huerta and junior guard Willie Thomas III each scored 10 points. Senior guard Shadeed Shabazz was limited to six points and six assists in his final game. For their efforts in the three games of the regional, Huerta and Shabazz were named to the All-Tournament Team.

Forward Malik Duffy, the D2CCA West Region Player of the Year, led Chico State (22-4) with 21 points and eight rebounds on 8 of 14 from the field and 5 of 6 from long range. Kevin Warren finished with 12 points and seven rebounds while Colby Orr also finished with 12 points.

Alaska finishes the season with a 14-15 record. Seeded No. 10 entering the GNAC Championships, the Nanooks proceeded to win four games to claim the conference automatic and the automatic berth to the NCAA Championships. The No. 8 seed in the West Regional, the Nanooks upset No. 1 Cal State San Marcos and outlasted No. 5 Azusa Pacific in an overtime battle to set up the finals matchup. In each postseason game, Alaska had only seven available players.

This was Alaska’s third-ever trip to the West Regional final and marked the first time that the No. 8 seed had reached the final since the regional tournament expanded to eight teams in 2003.

After a close start to the game, it looked as though Alaska would have the horses to set the foundation for yet another stunner. The Nanooks trailed at the 13-minute mark when a pair of Sparling free throws started a 14-0 over the next three minutes. Huerta’s three-pointer with 10:22 left in the half put the Nanooks up by 10, 19-9.

Just as sudden as Alaska got the hot hand, the shooting suddenly fell ice cold as the Wildcats outscored the Nanooks 24-5 the rest of the half and limited UAF to just 2 of 11 from the field. Duffy gave Chico State the lead for good when his second-chance lay-in make it a 20-19 game and Isaiah Brooks made it a 10-point Wildcats advantage with 1:30 left en route to a 33-23 halftime lead.

Both teams started slow in the second half with just one make field goal by either squad in the first four minutes. The Wildcats had the one basket and Thomas brought the lead back to within 10 on his lay-in, the first UAF field goal of the period.

But the offense just could not catch fire. Warren’s lay-in at the 14:37 mark opened up another 7-0 run that put the Wildcats ahead 47-30 and Duffy extended the advantage to 52-34 on his three-pointer with 11:43 to go. Chico State would build its biggest lead late, going up 22 on another Duffy three-pointer with 2:18 left.