Shabazz's 42 points launch Nanooks to GNAC Semifinals
Shadeed Shabazz is never satisfied. A day removed from being named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous selection to first team All-Conference, Shabazz was still motivated.
In the opening round of the GNAC postseason tournament, the sixth-seeded Alaska Nanooks outlasted the third-seeded Western Oregon Wolves 91-88, led by a GNAC tournament record 42 points from Shabazz, smashing the previous record of 36.
A forgetful first half created a 15-point deficit for the Nanooks heading into the locker room. Shabazz had 24 points at the break, but UAF allowed 59 first half points, struggling to slow down the Wolves' potent offense.
Needing a second half spark, Shabazz, the NCAA Division II leader in steals, swiped a pass and turned it into a layup on the other end. This ignited a 19-4 run for the 'Nooks, who were able to knot the game at 63 by the 15:00 mark.
In a tied ball game with two minutes remaining, Shabazz was called for a charge, his fifth and final foul, disqualifying him for the rest of the game. The remaining Nanooks stepped up in his absence, as senior Spencer Sweet drilled a three-pointer with 46 seconds remaining, to give the Blue and Gold a 89-86 lead.
Up one with the shot clock winding down, Koby Huerta hit a tough baseline jumper over two defenders with 6.9 seconds to extend the lead to three points. The Nanooks would hold off Western Oregon on the final shot, propelling to the semifinals of the GNAC tournament.
"Man, it meant everything because I almost broke down in tears because I wanted it so bad for us," Shabazz said of his team stepping up in the final minutes, "Our guys came through to stay together and not break down, it just shows how mentally tough we are."
Shabazz added five assists and four steals to his record-breaking performance, while shooting an efficient 15 of 22 from the field and 5 of 8 from behind the arc. Huerta, who clinched the game in the final seconds, finished with 18 points in the victory.
The Nanooks were projected to place 10th out of 11 teams in the preseason coaches' poll, and are the sixth and final seed in the tournament.
"We're not thinking that we're under dogs, we're not worried about rankings or anything," Shabazz said of the team's mentality. "We are just taking it one game at a time because that is all we can do. We can't look ahead, we can't underestimate any team."
This year's GNAC tournament is held at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington, Shabazz's hometown.
"It just feels really good because there are a whole bunch of people who really believed in me, who supported me through all my trials and tribulations. Just to show them that I am still working hard and still chasing my dream, it feels good for them to see me actually kill that." Shabazz added.
The Nanooks will face the two-seeded Western Washington Vikings on Friday at 11 a.m. AKST in the semifinals. UAF split with the Vikings earlier this year, including a 96-85 victory where Shabazz scored a Carver Gym record 43 points on February 6.