LA JOLLA, Calif. -
The fourth-ranked UC San Diego women's basketball team saw its hopes for a national title come to an end on Monday, dropping a heartbreaking 68-63 decision to Alaska Anchorage in the NCAA Division II West Regional Championship game at RIMAC Arena.
After trailing by as many as 12 early in the second period, the Tritons rallied to within one with less than a minute to play, but ultimately fell short against a talented and determined Seawolf squad. Daisy Feder scored a game-high 22 points and Chelsea Carlisle put in 17, but it wasn't enough to keep UCSD's magical season going.
The Tritons, who earned the West Region's top seed after a near-perfect regular season, see their season come to a close at 30-3.
"Right now, we're a little shell-shocked and very disappointed," head coach Charity Elliott said. "I couldn't have asked for a team to work harder, to commit, to giving up themselves, being selfless, putting the team first always, setting the tone every single day in practice. There's not been one day that I don't go down and thank the Lord that this is my team and I mean that as much now as I've ever meant it. I wouldn't want to be in any other locker room."
Alaska Anchorage, the No. 2 seed in the West, advances to the Elite Eight in San Antonio, Texas next week. The eighth-ranked Seawolves will square off with No. 2 Ashland University on Tuesday, March 20 at Bill Greehey Arena on the campus of Saint Mary's University.
Senior forward Hanna Johansson had a big night for UAA, scoring 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go with a game-high seven rebounds. She scored 18 of her 20 points in the second half, as the Seawolves were able to withstand the Tritons' rally. Johansson was named the West Regional Most Outstanding Player for her performance.
Sasha King finished with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists for Anchorage, while Kaylie Robison tallied 10 points and six boards. Both earned spots on the all-tournament team.
For UCSD, it was the backcourt duo of Feder and Carlisle shouldering the bulk of the scoring load once again as the pair of seniors combined to score 39 of the team's 63 points. Feder finished 8-of-21 from the field, including 4-of-9 from the three-point line, while Carlisle was 7-of-15 overall and 3-of-9 from downtown. She added three rebounds and five assists.
Fellow senior Lauren Freidenberg had a strong performance in her final game as a Triton as well, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting to go with five boards and a blocked shot.
"My heart is just breaking right now for these three right here," Elliott said of her three departing seniors. "They've just been the heart and soul of our team and our program. They led us to an unbelievable year. I'm just really, really sad for these guys."
Trailing 40-28 less than 30 seconds into the second half, UCSD clawed its way back to within 46-43 five minutes later following back-to-back threes from Carlisle and Feder.
A Johansson basket put the visitors up 51-46 with 13:25 remaining, before Freidenberg scored on two consecutive possessions to bring the Tritons to within one. Johansson answered with a three-point play on UAA's next trip though, pushing the Seawolf advantage to 54-50 with 9:15 to play.
The Tritons would close to within two points on three separate occasions over the next seven and a half minutes, but each time the Seawolves were able to respond.
Another key Johansson bucket gave Anchorage a 64-60 lead with 1:07 to play, but Feder followed with her fourth three of the night to cut the deficit to just one once again with 51 seconds remaining.
Johansson came up with yet big play on the ensuing possession, grabbing the rebound of her own miss and getting fouled. She calmly sank two free throws to put the Seawolves on top by three, 66-63, with 22 ticks left.
Feder got free for a clean look at a three on the Tritons' next trip, but her shot hit the side of the backboard and went out of bounds with just nine seconds on the clock. UCSD earned one final chance after forcing a five-second call while UAA was trying to inbound, but Tijera Mathews came up with a clean block on Feder's potential game-tying three, King secured the rebound and that was that.
"Honestly, I thought we played a little hesitant, a little bit passive in the first half, but when we finally settled down, I thought we battled toe-to-toe with them," Elliott said "I think we used so much energy up, we kept coming back, kept coming back, but you know even to the very end, we get a five-second call and we had a couple of looks to tie the game, but we didn't get some of the breaks that we needed."
Alaska Anchorage shot 46% (24-52) for the game, while UCSD shot at a 42% (24-57) clip. The Seawolves held a 39-26 rebounding advantage and outscored the Tritons 32-20 in the paint.
Despite the loss, 2011-12 proved to be a banner season for the Tritons as they set a new school record with 26 straight wins, put together the best record in the history of the California Collegiate Athletic Association and spent seven straight weeks atop the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll. UCSD's also set a new program record for victories in a season.
2012 NCAA D-II West Regional Championship All-Tournament Team
Chelsea Carlisle, UC San Diego
Daisy Feder, UC San Diego
Sasha King, Alaska Anchorage
Kaylie Robison, Alaska Anchorage
Hanna Johansson, Alaska Anchorage
Most Outstanding Player: Hanna Johansson, Alaska Anchorage