March 24, 2009

Courtesy of Anchorage Athletics

SAN ANTONIO – All-America center Rebecca Kielpinski delivered 14 points and 13 rebounds and Alaska Anchorage held Clayton State without a field goal for the final eight minutes Tuesday to earn a 66-59 win in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Championships at Bill Greehey Arena.

Ruby Williams and Tamar Gruwell added 11 points apiece for 2nd-ranked UAA (31-3), which advances to its second consecutive national semifinal appearance. The Seawolves will face 4th-ranked Minnesota State (30-2) in that game Wednesday at 3 p.m. Alaska time.

Clayton State (26-7), the winner of the Southeast Region, was led by 12 points from reserve forward Nikkisha Pritchett.

The Seawolves started the game on a roll, scoring the first 12 points before CSU called a timeout. But that break got the Lakers rolling as the Atlanta-based squad turned up its full-court pressure and drained three straight three-pointers to make UAA’s lead evaporate in less than two minutes.

CSU continued to thrive from its pressure throughout the half, forcing 17 UAA turnovers and taking a 39-30 lead into the locker room – the Seawolves’ largest halftime deficit of the season.

The Lakers maintained their lead at around seven to 11 points throughout the first 12 minutes of the second half, but UAA – the nation’s leading defensive club – would bounce back after falling behind 56-43 at the 8:35 mark.

Freshman forward Hanna Johansson (8 pts, 3-6 FG, 5 reb, 2 asst) started the decisive 23-3 surge with an inside bucket, and Williams followed with a layup a minute later.

From there, Gruwell – scoreless to that point in the game – took over on the offensive end, draining three three-pointers in a two-and-half-minute span. Her final swish tied it 57-57 at the 5-minute mark, and Clayton State could not regain control.

After Williams and CSU’s Lesheria Stevens traded pairs of free throws, the Seawolves got a huge break when Stevens slipped and lost her shoe while bringing the ball up the court. Gruwell dove and poked the ball to Kiki Taylor, who found Nikki Aden streaking down the right side for an uncontested layup.

Gruwell grabbed another steal on CSU’s next possession, and the junior from Fairfield, Calif., drained two free throws at the 1:30 mark to make it 63-59.

The Lakers could not convert on their last three field-goal attempts after that, completing an 0-of-10 stretch to end the game.

“I was impressed with Clayton State and how they controlled the game defensively for the most part,” said UAA head coach Tim Moser. “Our kids fought hard, though, and found a way to win despite making all those mistakes (31 turnovers). I’ve never questioned this team’s heart.”

“Our defense needed to save us in the end, and we made our run when Hanna Johansson and Tristan Burnett came in and gave us a lift in that department.”

The Seawolves also dominated down low, where they held a 45-23 rebounding advantage and a 30-12 edge in points in the paint.

Point guard Kiki Taylor had seven points, five assists, four steals and four rebounds for UAA, while Aden and senior forward Dasha Basova scored five points apiece.

Kielpinski, who picked up her third foul midway through the first half, was able to avoid any more in the second stanza, finishing 5-of-9 from the field and 4-of-6 from the free throw line. She also had a pair of blocks to push her career total to 259, just two shy of No. 2 on the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s all-time list.

UAA’s 31st win breaks last year’s school record for most victories. The Seawolves are now 26-0 when outrebounding their opponents and 12-0 when shooting at least 45 percent (48.9 percent on Tuesday) from the field.

The UAA-MSU semifinal matchup will be aired live in Anchorage on two stations – KCFT (GCI cable 19) and ESPNU (GCI 134). Radio coverage will be provided on AM-1080 KUDO and streamed on GoSeawolves.com.