If Alaska-Anchorage's 70-66 victory over No. 2Michigan Wednesday night wasn't the upset of the college basketball season, it was at least the biggest upset since earlier this week when another Big Ten team, No. 4-ranked Iowa, was upset by another Division II team, Cal-Riverside, in Hawaii.
No one would have guessed that the Division II Seawolves, who are best known for being the host team of the Great Alaska Shootout every November, could knock off the powerful Wolverines, who had cruised to an 11-0 record this year, beating the likes of Oklahoma and Memphis State.But it happened right here in Salt Lake City in front of a few of the early-arrivers at the Huntsman Center Wednesday evening for the first round of the Utah Classic.
"The kids played really darned good and I'm really proud of them," said Alaska Ron Abegglen, who was the longtime coach at Snow College. "We beat a very good basketball team tonight. "we wanted to control the tempo and keep the basketball as long we we could to nullify their tremendous rebounding. We worked on a game plan for two days."
The Alaska game plan was to hold the ball and use up most of the 45-second clock. Then the Seawolves needed to make their shots, which is what they did in hitting 27 of 43 for 63 percent from the field.
Meanwhile, Michigan, which was averaging 60 percent on the season, hit just 47.5 percent from the field and a horrendous 38 percent from the foul line.
"You have to give Alaska credit - they had a great game plan," said Michigan Coach Bill Frieder. "We knew they were good and they did the right thing to beat us. You could see it coming - I didn't believe it would happen, but it happened."
Michael Johnson led the Seawolves with 20 points, while Todd Fisher had 18 and Ron Fischer added 16.
For Michigan, all-America candidate Glen Rice had 24 points and Terry Mills added 14.
Early on, it looked like it would be just another Michigan rout. The Wolverines came into the game outscoing their opponents this year by a 100-67 margin.
The Wolverines quickly went up 10-4 and 16-8, but the Seawolves hung tough and closed to within one at 27-26, before falling behind 36-32 at halftime.
In the second half, Alaska went on an 11-point run to turn a 44-38 deficit into a 49-44 lead with 12:47 left. Fisher had six points and Jerry Sommer hit a key three-pointer during the rally.
The Seawolves kept right on going and extended the lead to 10 at 58-48 over the stunned Wolverines. But Michigan fought back and was within three at 63-60 when Alaska's Race McCleery was called with a strange intentional foul while fighting through a pick, sending Rice to the line for two shots. But he missed both shots and when Rumeal Robinson was called with an offensive foul a few seconds later, Michigan had come up empty when they had a chance to go ahead.
David Miles sank a foul shot, Fischer hit two and then Johnson also hit a pair of free throws and the lead went back to 68-60 with 2:48 left.
Despite missing five of seven free throws down the stretch, the Seawolves had enough of a cushion to hang on to the win.
Abegglen wouldn't say it was the biggest win he's ever had.
"Close," he said, "but we had some big wins in the (Division II) tournament last year."
The Seawolves will try to capture another big fish when they take on Utah Thursday night in the finals at 8 p.m.