Jan. 14—Through its first nine games of the 2023-2024 season, the University of Alaska Anchorage had only managed to log a pair of wins to go with seven losses.
Not only have the Seawolves not tasted defeat in their last seven games, they've looked like a force to be reckoned with during their current win streak that was extended with an 84-55 rout of in-state rival University of Alaska Fairbanks on Saturday night at the Alaska Airlines Center.
"The girls are clicking right now," UAA head coach Ryan McCarthy said. "We'll learn a lot from this game because there was a stretch where we didn't execute well on either end of the floor, but I'm proud of them and they're improving. We want to be able to take this momentum on the road."
UAA was fueled by a defense that was suffocating for most of the night and an explosive scoring outing from junior point guard Senya Rabouin who finished with a game-high 20 points.
"Senya was unbelievable," McCarthy said. "She is a very good point guard, she's a scoring point guard."
He recalled that his staff first started recruiting Rabouin after she had a 45-point scoring outing at her previous school.
"We knew what this player could do and I think she is settling into the speed of the game and the length at this level," McCarthy said. "She's a special player and her backup Mia (Ross) who played at the same junior college does a good job of not letting us drop down in our level when Senya comes out of the game."
Rabouin helped the Seawolves jump out to a 7-0 lead with two of their first three buckets before the Nanooks were forced to take a timeout to regroup. UAA never trailed, led by as many as 12 in the first period and took a 15-point advantage into halftime 47-32.
"It was nice but I couldn't have done it without my team," Rabouin said. "We were getting stops on defense and turning them into points in transition."
This marked the first-year junior college transfer's first time playing against UAF and she was anticipating being able to make a lasting impression in the rivalry.
"It was pent-up aggression all week so it felt good to finally get out there and get into action," Rabouin said.
UAF opened the third period with a 12-4 run and cut the deficit on the scoreboard to just five points before UAA put the clamps back on defensively. It also sparked their offense and the Seawolves entered the fourth quarter with another double-digit lead at 60-44.
"I thought (UAA guard) Ja'Niah Alexander did a good job of just playing intense and kind of getting us going a little bit in the second half midway through the third quarter when we kind of turned it back on," McCarthy said.
He admitted that his team can "sometimes get a little complacent" when they jump out to big leads and start playing outside of their rules and structure, allowing their opponents start heating up.
"Fairbanks did a good job making us pay for the times that we did that," McCarthy said. "I felt that once we settled back into our principles on the defensive end, it started creating a lot of fast-break opportunities for us and that's when our group excels."
Rabouin wasn't the only first-year Seawolf that had a big game Saturday night. Junior forward Tori Hollingshead recorded the second-most points of the game with 18 and nearly had a double-double with a team-leading eight rebounds.
"She's a special athlete and I think she'll end up dunking this year," McCarthy said. "We've seen it in practice and she's one of the most interesting players that I've ever seen from her skill-set standpoint. When she decides that she wants to go rebound, there's not too many people that can keep her off the glass."
The resounding victory matches their longest streak since the beginning of last season. But unlike last year, this impressive run has included victories over Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponents with the most notable being last week's win over nationally ranked Western Washington.
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Even in the midst of their rough start to the season, Rabouin said the team "absolutely" believed they were capable of having a high level of success.
"We never took our foot off the pedal and kept going," she said. "We know what we have and we know what our ability is so we were never too worried about it."
McCarthy believes that the return of last year's leading scorer, senior guard Vishe Rabb, has been big during their winning streak both in games, and in practice from a leadership standpoint.
"It changes the intensity for us and we know what we're about to see when we go out onto the floor," he said.
This is also the point in the season where first-year players in the program begin to "find their groove" according to McCarthy.
To play such a well-rounded brand of basketball against their in-state rivals felt especially good.
"Fairbanks is good enough to beat a lot of teams in our league and I don't think we're any exception to that," McCarthy said. "For us to be able to play like this at this point in the year, I'm really happy."
The confidence and momentum that they've built will be "crucial" for the two-game road stretch they have coming up as UAA won't be back at home until the final week of the month.
"It's going into road games with some wins on our hands because it's all about confidence right now and we're looking for our eighth and ninth," Rabouin said.