CAA Championship: Tournament Tough UNCW Looks To Make A March Madness Run

CAA Championship: Tournament Tough UNCW Looks To Make A March Madness Run

UNC Wilmington scored its eighth straight win in tournament-format games with a rally against Drexel that showed the Seahawks' collective toughness.

Mar 5, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
CAA Championship: Tournament Tough UNCW Looks To Make A March Madness Run

UNC Wilmington came into its Colonial Athletic Association quarterfinal with Drexel a winner in seven consecutive tournament-format games dating back nearly a year. The experiences from those wins came in handy as the Seahawks fell behind by 12 points in the second half on Sunday. 

"That experience of Baha Mar, the experience of [the College Basketball Invitational], I thought it really helped us tonight," UNCW coach Takayo Siddle said. 

The Seahawks capped a breakthrough 2021-22 season under Siddle by winning the 2022 CBI, an event that required UNCW to grind through four games in four days. 

A strong field converged on Daytona Beach a year ago — Drake, which UNCW beat in a 76-75 quarterfinal-thriller, secured the Missouri Valley Conference's automatic bid into the 2023 NCAA Tournament on Sunday while the Seahawks were in action at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

Highlights: UNC Wilmington vs. Drake

Another participant in the 2022 CBI field, UNC Asheville, earned its place in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday as well with a Big South championship-game comeback against Campbell. 

Both Drake and UNCA returned their star players from a season ago, a luxury UNCW lacked in 2022-23 with the departure of CBI Most Valuable Player Jaylen Sims. However, as Siddle noted, this year's Seahawks feature "five or six" players who contributed to last season's success. 

if there was any doubt about the tournament acumen of this particular UNCW roster, it answered those questions back in November with a championship at the Baha Mar Tournament. 

The Seahawks won hotly contested matchups in the Thanksgiving weekend event against a Vermont in the hunt for yet another America East Conference automatic bid; and a championship-game slugfest against Conference USA contender North Texas. 

The win over Vermont in the Baha Mar semifinals resonated in Washington, D.C. UNCW needed a rally from down 10 points against the Catamounts. 

Likewise on Sunday, a 9-2 Drexel run out of the locker room following a back-and-forth first half gave the Dragons a double-digit-point lead. A Coletrane Washington 3-pointer not long before the under-12 timeout pushed the advantage to 12 points. 

The true measure of the Seahawks' toughness was tested with their season on the line. An unlikely candidate in Nick Farrar answered the call. 

Farrar arrived at the postgame press conference wearing the team's "Toughness Chain." The gold necklace was the only thing in the room twinkling more than Farrar's eyes when he spoke of earning the honor for the first time on the season. 

"I'm grateful to have it," he said following his 19 points in about 17 minutes. 

And it was certainly earned. 

Farrar wasn't part of the CBI run, transferring in from Charleston during the offseason, and he scored two combined points in UNCW's nail-biting wins at the Baha Mar over Vermont and North Texas. 

But as ignited the run with 8-of-10 shooting and three made 3-pointers, Farrar's play opened the flood gates for other Seahawks like Shykeim Phillips, Trazarien White and Amarii Thomas with past tourney moments. 

Feeding off one another extended beyond the lines, too, as the UNCW run snowballed to 16-0. 

"It's great when you have a player-coached team, a player-led team," Siddle said. "I didn't really have to say a whole lot. They were coaching themselves. Our older guys were talking in huddles. It was a beautiful thing to be part of." 

Of all the takeaways for UNCW in a format that rewards teams' endurance, Siddle emphasized being "connected" as perhaps the most important. Riding that connection to two more wins is all that separates the Seahawks from an NCAA Tournament bid.