There is more at stake than just Southeast Conference bragging rights when the Thunder Mountain High School boys’ (8-3) and girls’ (5-5) basketball teams host the Ketchikan Kings tonight and Saturday.
The most recent Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches poll has the Falcons boys ranked No. 2 in the state, behind the West Anchorage Eagles and perched just on top of West Valley, Service and Colony.
West fell to Sitka 66-56 in the Alaska Airlines Classic on Thursday in Anchorage and Juneau-Douglas beat West Valley 83-82 Wednesday in Fairbanks.
The Falcons could be sitting on top of the state poll if they take care of the pesky Kings in their first home stand after 11 road games.
“We are excited to play a real home series,” Thunder Mountain boys coach John Blasco said. “We are obviously excited to be playing conference games. It is going to be a good matchup.”
The Ketchikan boys have traditionally used a 4-out, 1-in offense and like to drive hard to the basket, making the defense adjust. The result is usually a foul, a shot at the rim or a kick-out to an open jumper. The Falcons have seen the Kings play in tournaments up north this season but haven’t faced them.
“We have seen a lot of their continuous movement offense,” Blasco said. “They do have some weapons and we have to be ready for them defensively.”
Against Juneau-Douglas, the Kings pressed in the half court of their home gym and forced the ball up court every possession.
That should be what they try against the Falcons.
The Kings are small, aside from 6-foot-4 sophomore Mo Bullock inside, but have senior leadership and proven scorers in Alex Pihl, Colton Paulsen, Malik Almenzor, Omar Mendoza and Isaiah Navales.
The plus side for the Falcons is that they are just as fast with their taller players as the speedy Trent Uddipa and Mike Uddipa show at guard.
TMHS went 4-1 against Ketchikan last season, the lone loss coming as a result of a forfeit.
On the girls side, both teams are looking to grasp a hold of the conference lead.
“It is a big weekend for everybody,” Thunder Mountain girls coach Tanya Nizich said. “It should be fun. Full rosters for everybody, and everybody healthy. This is mid-season and it will be nice to see where everybody lies.”
The Falcons girls lost 61-55 to Kayhi during the Clark Cochrane Christmas Classic this season. The Lady Kings played on a Sunday without Jayley Taylor and the Falcons without Siosi Tupou, both for religious reasons.
“We expect a lot of pressure from them,” Nizich said. “They are a quick team and have a lot of scorers. We can’t take anyone for granted.”
The Lady Kings are a pressing team with outside shooting strength and the Falcons will rely on an inside-out game, hoping that juniors Ashley Young, Cheyenne Ekis and sophomore Ava Tompkins can draw in defenders and when not scoring, pass out to senior Michaela Demmert or Tupou and fitting new varsity player Siniva Maka into the equation. Sophomore center Harriet Martin has also moved onto the varsity squad.
The Lady Kings mix the four-year varsity experience of Taylor and Brooke Simmons, with classmate Alexis Crellin, juniors Sonja Christensen and Felicia Ruaro, sophomore regulars Charly Edwardson, Eliah Anderson, Courtney Kemble, Alexis Biggerstaff and freshman AJ Dela Cruz.
Taylor was a Kayhi freshman coming off the Kayhi bench when the Falcons’ program began and she is now the senior leader of the Kings. She has hurt the TMHS program for three seasons and is looking to add a fourth, averaging over 13 points per game.
The Lady Kings’ three losses are to state No. 3-ranked West twice and No. 5 Colony.
The Falcons went 2-4 against the Lady Kings, including a 64-55 win at the Region V tourney that eliminated Kayhi.
Game times for the tonight and Saturday are girls 6:15 p.m. (JV 4:30, C 11 a.m.) and boys at 8 p.m. (JV 2:30, C 12:45).