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MSU Billings sweep No. 19 Alaska Anchorage, men fall by 7

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 10:26:04-05

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – For the first time since 1999 the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team swept its season series against University of Alaska Anchorage, with a 74-67 triumph over the No. 19 Seawolves on Thursday night at Alterowitz Gym.

The Yellowjackets, who led by as much as 18 points early in the third quarter, withstood a late push by the Seawolves to claim their first home win over UAA since the 2013-14 season. “I’m really proud of our players, and it was a hard-fought win,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Their shooting came alive in the second half. They didn’t have a three in the first half and they hadn’t shot well in the last two games, but all of a sudden they made nine threes in the second half.”

Sala Langi converted a layup with 1:10 to go in the game that brought the score to 69-64, but Cariann Kunkel scored the next four points and rescued MSUB from what would have been a costly turnover to help seal the victory. Kunkel, who led all players with 24 points in MSUB’s 72-48 drubbing on Jan. 17 in Anchorage, finished with 14 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals. “Cariann inside is so strong, and I know I can always trust her to make a shot,” said senior forward Taryn Shelley. “I just believe in all my teammates, and I am super proud of us. We played amazing defense, and we played awesome overall.”

Danielle Zahn scored a career-high 18 points, hitting all three of her 3-point attempts while adding five assists, two rebounds, and a steal. Zahn took over the end of the second quarter, scoring 10 points in the final two minutes including a buzzer-beating floater that gave the Yellowjackets a 33-20 advantage at halftime.

The Seawolves went 0-for-10 from 3-point range in the opening 20 minutes, but were able to reverse the trend and use perimeter shooting to climb back into the game. Rachel Ingram hit a season-high seven threes for 21 points, tying the UAA school record for most threes made in a half. UAA went 9-for-15 from the arc in the final 20 minutes, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a deficit that reached 38-20 when Shayla Montague hit her first of three treys early in the third quarter.

Montague finished with 14 points, three rebounds, and two steals, and Shelley also reached double figures with 13 points and a team-high six rebounds. “Everyone contributed, and Shayla and Dani hit some big threes that we needed,” Shelley said on a night where MSUB went 7-for-19 from the arc (36.8 percent). “We have been doing a lot of work off court bonding with each other, and it feels like we have been ready to go for each of the last few games.”

MSUB improved to 12-8 with the victory, and is now 6-2 in conference play to maintain its second-place position. UAA meanwhile slipped to 10-4 overall and 3-3 in league play with the loss, and suffered a third straight defeat for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Tennae Voliva finished with 18 points and a team-high seven rebounds, and Langi was the other Seawolf to reach double digits in scoring with 11 points.

The game got off to a sluggish start for MSUB, which trailed 6-0 and waited nearly four minutes for its first field goal which came from Shelley. The Yellowjackets quickly established momentum however, out-scoring UAA 16-2 over the final portion of the first quarter on their way to the double-figure halftime advantage. “We got down right away, but we settled in and to have the lead at halftime was great,” said Woodin. “They had a lot of momentum but we hit a lot of shots in response to them. In the first half we built our lead through the defense, and in the second half we had to score along with them to keep them from getting any closer. It was a really complete win for us, and we found a way to win against a really great team.”

Kortney Nelson chipped in nine points, two rebounds, and two assists, and Aspen Giese had four points to go along with a season-high six assists, three rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot. “It was really important for us to go into the second half strong, because we knew they were going to come out strong,” Shelley said. “We knew we had to fight back and play as hard as we could. We made sure we had energy, and we took what we did in the first half and made it work in the second half.”

MSUB shot an even 50.0 percent in the game (26-for-52), marking its second-best shooting night of the season behind 55.4 percent in an 88-58 win over Holy Names on Nov. 12. The Yellowjackets also made 15 of 19 free throws (78.9 percent), marking their eighth straight game reaching double figures in made foul shots.

MSUB out-rebounded UAA 34-30 and won despite committing 16 turnovers, as the ‘Jackets were one off their season high in assists with 21. “Our team is really unselfish, and they will give up a good shot to try to get somebody a better one,” said Woodin. “They have created that mentality for themselves. Right now we feel good about what we are doing, and the key is that we don’t get complacent. We have great senior leadership with Addison (Gardner), Shannon (Reny), and Taryn, and we have young players who are wanting to contribute.”

Meanwhile, making their return to the court after a 12-day pause, MSUB's men mounted a comeback against the visiting Seawolves but fell 68-61 on Thursday night.

“I thought Alaska Anchorage was the tougher team tonight from the start,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “I liked how we competed, got back into the game and gave ourselves a chance. We needed this game to learn and continue to get better, but the game cancelations have hurt everyone’s game growth.”

The Yellowjackets (7-9, 3-3 GNAC) fell behind the Seawolves (8-3, 8-1 GNAC) early in the first half, but chipped away and cut Alaska Anchorage’s lead to one point with 3:28 to go. Yet the Seawolves went on an 8-0 run late to put the game away.

Damen Thacker led the way for MSUB with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. Carrington Wiggins finished in double-figures for the fifth-straight game with 12 points. Bilal Shabazz added 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists – the latter two figures were team-highs. Malik Brikat rounded out the double-figure scorers with 10 points.

The Yellowjackets worked the ball inside to start the game. Malik Brikat went to work on the low block, scoring six of MSUB’s first eight points to help the ‘Jackets to take an early 8-6 lead.

From there, however, the Seawolves came with a 10-0 run over the next 2 minutes and 50 seconds to take a 16-8 advantage. Carrington Wiggins found the scoring column with a jumper in the lane, then Emmanuel Ajanaku nearly brought down the rim with a dunk on the next possession. MSUB kept pace with Alaska Anchorage with Bilal Shabazz making his first field goal of the night, then Damen Thacker seaming a bounce pass to a cutting Brikat, who made it a 19-16 game with 9:41 to go.

But the ‘Jacket offense went cold. MSUB went nearly five minutes without a field goal as the Seawolves pulled ahead 24-18. Nicholas Sebastiao and Ajanaku provided the final points for MSUB in the first half as they entered the locker room trailing 29-22.

Coming out of halftime, Alaska Anchorage forced back-to-back turnovers and scored on its first two possessions of the second half to lead 34-22. Brikat briefly stopped the bleeding, opening the second half just like he did in the first with a hook shot. Wiggins was fouled on a made put-back then converted the bonus to make it a 37-27 game, but a 7-0 run from the Seawolves gave the visitors their largest lead of the night.

Then Shabazz went to work. The junior forward went on a personal 5-0 run – first with a floater and then with a three – which gradually turned into an 11-0 run for the ‘Jackets. Thacker made four-straight free-throws, then another basket from Shabazz capped off the run before Alaska Anchorage made a three, but the ‘Jackets didn’t lose momentum. With 6:41 to go, Wiggins made his first three of the night, cutting Alaska Anchorage’s lead to 47-45.

Yet Wiggins and Thacker couldn’t be kept down for the whole game. As the second half intensified, the upperclassmen backcourt made it a one-possession game twice in the final four minutes. An Ajanaku steal led to another basket by Wiggins to make the score 54-51 with 3:47 left. Then Wiggins stripped an Alaska Anchorage player along the sideline, heaved the ball ahead to Thacker, who absorbed a big hit on the way to the basket to make it a one-point game.

The ‘Jackets couldn’t get closer. An 8-0 run from the Seawolves put the game out of reach – all despite nine late points from Thacker and Wiggins to close the game.