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Resilient and battle-tested, UAA men's basketball is confident heading into GNAC tournament

Mar. 6—This season, the University of Alaska Anchorage men's basketball team logged at least 20 wins for the 17th time since the program attained NCAA Division II status in 1977-78. But it hasn't come easy and featured several challenges and obstacles along the way.

Now the Seawolves have a chance to contend for a Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship and are heading into this week's regional tournament as perhaps the most dangerous team in the field despite being the lowest seed at No. 6.

"We're ready to go win it and that's our goal," UAA head coach Rusty Osborne said Saturday. "We've beaten every team in the league except Seattle Pacific, and I don't know if we'll get a chance to see them or not, but it doesn't matter. We know we can play with anybody when we're on point offensively."

It took until the final week of the regular season for the Seawolves to clinch a playoff berth, but they did so by defeating top-seeded Montana State Billings 84-78 in the finale.

Much like many of their games down the stretch, UAA had to mount a comeback from being down double digits, and against the Yellowjackets, the Seawolves had to do it twice.

"The past couple games, we've been down late by at least 5-10 with like, five minutes left, so just going out there today was just another day at the gym," senior Jaron Williams said Saturday.

[UAA men's basketball erases multiple double-digit deficits to beat Montana State Billings]

Overcoming challenges and adapting to new circumstances is far from a new concept for the Seawolves this year.

Since junior forward Bishop Tosi injured his hand in the third game of the season diving for a loose ball after he had put up 24 points and 14 rebounds, UAA has had to rely on a pair of young post players this year in freshmen Sloan Lentfer and Lyman Simmons.

"We had to stay resilient there and move two freshmen post players into playing a lot of minutes that they weren't really ready for and persevere through that," Osborne said.

Lentfer was the 3A Player of the Year in Alaska in his senior season at Grace Christian School, and he's come on strong for the Seawolves down the stretch, including recording a career-high 18 points in an 83-81 double-overtime win over Simon Fraser last month.

After opening the season with an eight-game winning streak, the Seawolves have had the occasional hiccup and even lost 5-of-7 games at one point, but they always found a way to bounce back by staying together.

"We have talent but we're not the most talented team — we are a sum that's greater than our parts," Osborne said. "That's their character coming through and their connectivity with each other."

Williams says the team's mantra heading into the playoffs is the same it's always been.

"Always stay resilient, play defense, and get buckets," he said. "That's what we focus on."

UAA, the No. 6 seed in the GNAC tournament, will begin its campaign for a championship on Thursday in the quarterfinals against No. 3 seed Saint Martin's, at 4:15 p.m. in Ellensburg, Washington. The Seawolves swept the regular-season series between the two teams, including when the Saints were ranked nationally.