Despite loss in GNAC title game, UAA men's basketball team earns NCAA DII tournament berth

Mar. 11—The Central Washington men's basketball team built a big first-half lead and hung on to defeat UAA 78-69 on Saturday in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship game in Ellensburg, Washington.

Despite the loss, the Seawolves learned Sunday they qualified for the NCAA Division II Tournament. The No. 7 seeded Seawolves will take on No. 2 seed California State University San Bernardino on Friday at 1:30 p.m. AKDT in the opening round of the West Regional at University Gym in Los Angeles.

The Seawolves engineered a pair of upsets to reach the final but found themselves down 39-26 at halftime.

UAA senior guard Tyson Gilbert led the second-half comeback and finished with 24 points but it wasn't enough for the Seawolves (22-10).

"We played about as poorly as we have over the last month in the first half — we were not ourselves," UAA head coach Rusty Osborne said in a release from the school. "But our guys are resilient, and once we talked about it at halftime, we were able to regroup and put a run together. Once it got down to about a two-possession game there in the last few minutes, we missed a tough shot around the rim and they made one. And rebounding hurt us all night. Our first-shot defense was really good, but they got a lot of second-chance points."

UAA battled back to even the game at 46-46 at the 12:33 mark on a 3-pointer by junior guard Dillon Barrientos. But the Seawolves weren't able to grab a lead and the Wildcats (21-9) were able to pull away to win the title and gain an automatic berth into the D-II West Regional Championships next week.

UAA center Sloan Lentfer, a freshman from Anchorage's Grace Christian, added 14 points.

The Seawolves got as close as 66-63 with 3:54 remaining in the game on a pair of free throws by senior Sawyer Storms. Another senior, Anchorage's Jaron Williams, added seven points and three steals.

"Our guys showed their character right up to the end," Osborne said. "Even after the game, standing there patiently, waiting for them to celebrate, which they well deserved. That's the character of this bunch. They are great representatives of UAA, Anchorage and Alaska, and I'm going to miss coaching this group."