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After starting the season with a 2-7 record, the University of Alaska Fairbanks men's basketball team will play for the Pac West Conference, Pacific Division, title Saturday after winning its game Thursday night.
The Nanooks earned the right to play for the division title by beating Hawaii Pacific 75-55 Thursday night at the UAF Patty Center. That victory, combined with the University of Alaska Anchorage's 78-64 victory over division-leading Brigham Young-Hawaii Thursday at the UAA Sports Center, set up the one-game showdown for the division crown.
UAF and BYU-Hawaii will play each other for the division title at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Patty Center. UAA hosts Hawaii Pacific at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. Both games are the final regular-season games of the season for the two Alaska teams, who each feature a senior guard who graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School -- Matt Carle for UAF and Chris Hamey for UAA.
``It's going to be a championship game come Saturday, so we hope to pack the place,'' UAF coach Al Sokaitis told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ``The winner wins the division and automatically goes to the league playoffs.''
UAF needs to win the Pacific Division title outright in order to guarantee a spot in the four-team Pac West Conference playoffs, since the two at-large berths in the playoffs will be decided by a complicated schedule weighting formula. A different formula is used to determine the 48 teams that will qualify for the NCAA Division II tournament, so a team could qualify for the national tourney even though it didn't get to play in the Pac West tournament.
UAF, which improved 14-12 overall and 8-3 in the Pac West, trailed by one point at halftime, 36-35. But the Nanooks outscored Hawaii Pacific 40-19 in the second half to win their eighth straight game.
Carle was one of five players to score in double figures for UAF, finishing with 12 points. Sanjay Noriega scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Nanooks, while Bogdan Popescu added 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Mike Jones and Tim Church both scored 10 points.
Scott Kato scored 15 points to lead the Sea Warriors (12-13, 6-7), and Alvin Stephenson Jr. scored 11 points.
In Anchorage, the Seawolves jumped out to a 44-25 halftime lead and coasted to its upset victory over BYU-Hawaii, which fell to 17-7 overall and 10-3 in the conference.
UAA (16-9 and 5-6) also had five players score in double figures, led by forward Greg Freeman with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Hamey, who had been tied with Freeman for the team's season scoring lead, had 11 points and six assists. Jon Madison added 13 points for the Seawolves, Scott Larrabee scored 12 and Taylor Wagner added 10. Shawn O'Shea, a junior center-forward who lives in Juneau but attended high school in Virginia, did not see action for UAA Thursday.
One of the keys to UAA's victory was the defensive job turned in by Wagner, who held BYU-Hawaii star David Evans to just 18 points after he entered the game with an NCAA Division II-leading 29.3 point-a-game average. Thomas Joyce scored 14 points for the Seasiders and Brian Skinner added 13.