March 14, 2009

Courtesy Alaska Anchorage Athletics

SEATTLE – The nationally 2nd-ranked Alaska Anchorage women’s basketball team got another huge game from senior center Rebecca Kielpinski and used a stifling defensive effort to edge 10th-ranked UC San Diego 52-49 in the NCAA Division II West Regional semifinals at Brougham Pavilion on Saturday.

The victory moves UAA (29-3) into Monday’s regional title game for a chance to advance to the Elite Eight.

The Seawolves – seeded No. 2 in the regional – got 14 points, nine rebounds, four blocks and three steals from Kielpinski, who shot 7 of 8 from the field. Junior guard Kiki Taylor scored eight of her 10 points in the second half and dished a team-high three assists as UAA ran its winning streak to five.

The Tritons (27-5) – seeded No. 3 – were led by 16 points and four assists from freshman guard Chelsea Carlisle, while center Alexis Gaskin had 11 points and eight rebounds. But the California Collegiate Athletic Association champions were hurt by 33 percent shooting (20 of 61) as UAA held CCAA and West Region Player-of-the-Year Michelle Osier to just five points on 2-of-17 marksmanship.

It was Osier who had a chance to tie the game with UAA leading 51-49 and the clock winding down. The 6-1 senior forward penetrated and got off a short jumper in the lane that bounced off the rim and into the hands of Seawolf forward Nikki Aden.

Aden was immediately fouled with 2.1 seconds remaining, and the sophomore from Portland, Ore., connected on the second of two free throws for the final margin. A desperation 60-foot attempt by UCSD’s Annette Ilg flew far to the left of the backboard as UAA celebrated its first win over a top-10 team this season.

The victory also avenged a 66-51 loss to the Tritons two years ago in the same regional semifinal round in San Diego. In fact, Saturday’s matchup featured the last two West Region titlists, with the winner going on to represent the region in the NCAA Semifinals both times.

In addition to her clinching rebound, Aden had an impressive game off the bench with eight points on 3-of-3 shooting (1-1 3FG). Meanwhile, junior guard Tamar Gruwell had another quietly effective performance, tallying seven points (3-4 FG, 1-2 3FG), five rebounds and two steals. Gruwell, a 5-8 guard, has now played a team-high 71 minutes in UAA’s victories the last two days, committing zero turnovers.

The Tritons took an early 15-8 advantage before UAA responded with an 8-0 run, and the Seawolves went on to forge a 25-22 halftime lead.

Taylor then heated up with a series of drives and jumpers to help increase the lead to 45-35 over the first 10 minutes of the second half. But the Seawolves would go cold as the Tritons crept within 49-47 on a Gaskin layup with 4:17 remaining.

Kielpinski answered with UAA’s biggest bucket of the game, receiving an inbounds pass from the baseline with just 3 seconds on the shot clock and converting an up-and-under move. That bucket ended a 7-minute field-goal drought for the Seawolves and pushed the lead back to 51-47.

UCSD’s Leilani Martin converted her team’s last field goal on the next possession, but UAA’s nation-best defense forced three straight misses to end the game, including a block by Aden in that sequence.

The Seawolves – who have now equaled the program’s second-furthest NCAA Tournament advancement – return to Brougham Pavilion for the regional title game Monday at 6 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time. Awaiting them in that game will be either 4th-seeded Humboldt State, or Great Northwest Athletic Conference co-champion Seattle Pacific. The host Falcons are ranked No. 5 nationally and seeded No. 1 in the regional.

Monday’s showdown will be aired live in Anchorage on AM-1080 KUDO and can be heard via audio-stream at GoSeawolves.com.