FAIRBANKS - Alaska Fairbanks used a barrage of 3-pointers to get the lead, then hung on to defeat Nebraska 64-61 Saturday in the semifinals of the Top of the World Classic.
With seven players nailing shots from beyond the arc, the Nanooks (4-0) bolted to a 10-point first-half lead and neutralized the taller Cornhuskers. UAF was outrebounded only 33-28.
Nebraska coach Barry Collier was not sure his team benefited from the height advantage.
"With Fairbanks able to shoot from four positions, sometimes five, it spreads you out," he said. "It pulls you away from the basket."
He said the Nanooks outplayed Nebraska from the warmups through the first half.
"In the second half, we matched their intensity," he said. "We dug a big hole in the first 21 minutes."
The opening 15 minutes featured two ties and six lead changes. The Nanooks closed the half with a 14-4 run. Point guard Chris Smith, at 5-9 the shortest player on the court, scored 10 first-half points and hit a layup at the buzzer to give Alaska Fairbanks a 34-24 lead.
A jumper by Jason Williams at the start of the second half gave Alaska Fairbanks its biggest lead, 36-24.
But behind Jake Muhleisen, the Cornhuskers chipped away and took a 52-50 lead with 10:47 remaining when Corey Simms hit two free throws.
A lay-in by Brian Conklin gave Nebraska a four-point lead but Alaska Fairbanks countered with a 3-pointer by Marquis Revels, two free throws by Brad Oleson and a jumpshot by Steve Towne.
After Nebraska closed to within a point, Towne hit two free throws to give the Nanooks a 62-59 lead with 1:32 remaining. After another basket by Simms, Brad Oleson hit two free throws with 22 seconds remaining for the final margin.
Towne led Alaska Fairbanks with 13 points. Oleson finished with 12 points, Williams had 11 and Smith scored 10 for Alaska Fairbanks. Chris Jones, a UAF sophomore guard from Sitka, did not play for the Nanooks.
Muhleisen scored 25 points for Nebraska (1-1) but was shut out over the final nine minutes.
Division II Alaska Fairbanks (4-0) matched its victory total from all of last season and reached the finals of its tournament for the first time in its seven-year history. The Nanooks defeated Wisconsin-Green Bay on Thursday.
Alaska Fairbanks coach Al Sokaitis joked that he was "mildly pleased" with the upset.
"For a young man, it's a lifetime memory to beat Nebraska in the semifinals," Sokaitis said. "It's astronomical. They're big time so when you beat them it makes you feel big time too."
Alaska Fairbanks faces Weber State in tonight's tournament final. Weber State beat Ball State, 72-67, in Saturday night's late semifinal.
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