Aggression on the offensive end paid off in free throws and a tournament-opening victory Tuesday for the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team.
The Crimson Bears (6-0, 2-0 SE) made 14 of 18 free throws en route to a 55-49 win over South Anchorage in the Lady T-Bird Classic at East Anchorage High School.
"We knew that we didn't want to settle by living and dying by the 3," JDHS guard Talisa Rhea said. "We'd be better off with higher-percentage shots and we talked about attacking."
Rhea led by example Thursday by getting to the line 13 times and hitting 11 of those shots. The junior finished with a game-high 28 points and pulled down a team-best 14 rebounds.
"Early on she did quite a bit of penetrating and finishing," Bears coach Lesslie Knight said. "A lot of the points came from the free throw line. For us, it's huge. Her free throw shooting makes a big difference for us. She brought us up to 78 percent for the game."
Rhea, last year's Alaska Player of the Year, has been excelling recently by attacking the rim and drawing fouls.
In Saturday's 52-46 win over Sitka, Rhea made all 11 of her free throw attempts to pace the Bears.
"We shoot a lot of free throws in practice, 25 every day," Rhea said. "We do that in practice and that kind of develops a rhythm and routine. A lot of it is concentration."
In addition to scoring from the free throw line, JDHS established an offensive presence in the paint.
Up 28-27 at halftime, JDHS center Andrea Doerflinger scored eight of her 10 points in the second half. The sophomore's ability to score inside helped the Crimson Bears distance themselves from the Wolverines.
"I was just trying to finish the shots," Doerflinger said. "I was happy to see that I could help my team in some ways."
Juneau-Douglas' Sophia Smith scored nine points, Nicole Fenumiai had five points, Veronica Leitz scored on her only shot while Hannah Buck pulled down five rebounds in the win.
Defensively, the Bears limited South Anchorage to just 26.3 percent shooting from the floor in the second half.
"On a positive note, one of the things we did well was perimeter defense," Knight said. "We still need to work on our post play inside. We gave up a lot of easy baskets. ... I felt it shouldn't have been as close."
Knight said JDHS struggled defensively in the paint. The Crimson Bears double-teamed whoever had the ball in the paint, but Knight said the weak-side rotation was frequently late, allowing the Wolverines to find an open player for an easy shot.
"They would get to their post and we'd double-team the post and they'd hit the other post," Knight said. "The weak side wasn't rotating to the level of the ball."
Jacie McKee led the Wolverines with 11 points while Jessie Merkley and Emily Bryant posted nine points each.
With the victory, Juneau-Douglas will face Service today at 6 p.m. in a rematch of last year's state championship. The Cougars pounded Heritage Christian 83-36 in the other quarterfinal to set up today's game against the Crimson Bears.
Service returns both Sylvia and Lillian Bullock from last year's state runners-up squad. Sylvia scored 18 points while Lillian contributed 21 in Thursday's win over Heritage.
While fans might be intrigued by the notion of a state title rematch, Knight is looking at the game more pragmatically.
"I'm just glad we get to look at Service and play against them before the state tournament," Knight said. "I'm not putting it as a big rematch, though."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org