On this day 31 years ago, No. 2 Michigan walked into Salt Lake City’s Huntsman Center on the opening night of the Utah Seiko Classic with an 11-0 record and left in shock.
Division II University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves shocked the Wolverines, 70-66, in one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.
Michigan had been walloping opponents by 33.2 points per game and was averaging more than 100 points per contest. A little more than three months later, Michigan and its six future NBA players, would cut down the nets following an 80-79 overtime edging of Seton Hall to win the program’s first and only national championship. Glen Rice led the team with 25.6 points per game, and five players finished the season scoring in double figures.
But not against the Seawolves. UAA was a power in its own right at the Division II level, coming off of a national championship game appearance and a handful of victories over Division I teams in recent years. Even still, no one was predicting this outcome.
A key for the Seawolves was rebounding, according to Alaska Anchorage head coach Ron Abegglen. His team tried to maintain possession to keep Michigan off the glass. The Wolverines averaged 37.7 rebounds per game as a team in the 1988-89 season, and while the Seawolves held them just slightly under their season average (34-25 rebounding edge to Michigan), the patience paid off. The Seawolves shot a dazzling 63 percent from the field compared to Michigan’s 48.
“We wanted to keep the basketball as long as we could and nullify their tremendous rebounding,” Abegglen was quoted in the LA Times the following day. “If we play them normal, they outrebound us by 20 and beat us.”
UAA hung with Michigan throughout the game, going into the half only down 36-32. The Wolverines extended that lead to 44-38 with 16 minutes to play, but the Seawolves wrestled control from there, scoring the game’s next 11 points and launching a 20-4 run over eight minutes in the second half.
Michigan had an opportunity late in the game with Rice at the line for three shots down 63-60. But the star man missed all three, and the Seawolves rode that momentum to victory.
UAA’s Michael Johnson finished with 20 points, along with 18 from Todd Fisher and 16 more from Ron Fischer. Rice ended the night with 24 points.
The Spin on Alaska Anchorage vs. Michigan, 1988
UAA’s head coach held the position from 1986-1991 before moving on to take the same position at Weber State. He led the Wildcats from 1991-1999, notching another major upset in 1999, conquering North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 76-74, as a No. 14 seed. His .708 winning percentage is still best all-time among the six head coaches in UAA history. He was inducted into the Weber State Hall of Fame in October 2011.
1988-89 Alaska Anchorage Seawolves
The team went on to go 21-9 (7-5) and miss the postseason despite the monumental win early in the season. It shot 46.6 percent from the field for the season, a large drop from the incredible shooting night it was able to put together against Michigan.
This was the second all-time meeting between the two schools. Michigan won the first matchup, 102-55, in the consolation game of the 1986 UAB Classic in Birmingham, Alabama. Michigan’s Gary Grant scored 24 and four of his teammates finished in double figures in a blowout the Wolverines never trailed in. UAA’s revenge a couple years later knotted up the series at 1-1, and the two programs haven’t met since.