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George Houston popped a tape into his VCR before practice Wednesday. On the TV appeared a grainy video of last year's Juneau-Douglas High School vs. Wasilla boys basketball game at the Class 4A state tournament.
Juneau escaped from that game 57-50, and coach Houston has watched the video many times since, trying to figure out how a seemingly inferior Warriors team could nearly upset the Crimson Bears - then the two-time defending state champs.
On the TV a Wasilla player came off a back screen, then went untouched to the hoop for a layup.
``A lot of motion stuff, a lot of post-up stuff,'' Houston said. ``They're pretty aggressive. They like to spread you out. It's basically the same stuff he ran at Colony.''
The `he' Houston referred to is Chuck Martin, the current Wasilla coach who led the Colony Knights to the state's Final Four in five of the six years from 1992-98, including a loss to Juneau in the 1997 state championship. Martin led the Houston Hawks to Class 3A state titles in 1990 and 1991, and had a one-year stint coaching Division I college ball at Liberty (Lynchberg, Va.) under former Anchorage Christian and West Anchorage coach Randy Dutton. Last season, Martin become coach at Wasilla, and took the Warriors to the playoffs for the first time since 1991.
But the Crimson Bears have haunted Martin; including last year's loss to Juneau at state, he hasn't beaten a Juneau team in six tries.
He hopes to change all that tonight.
Wasilla (2-2) returns four starters - all seniors - and the Warriors lost just two seniors from last year's squad. Wonder Twin powers Nick and Justin Buzby return at forward, along with shooting guard Ben Luer and forward Morgan Leeds.
No Warriors starter is over 6-foot-3, but size doesn't seem to be a problem. Wasilla is a quick, strong, and athletic bunch, and have no problem defending against bigger teams, Martin said.
``Size hasn't been a problem with this group,'' Martin said. He pointed out the Warriors held former Juneau star Carlos Boozer to 17 points at state - 11 points under his average.
Ironically, it's the teams that match up evenly that give the Warriors trouble, Martin said.
``That's been pretty typical. A big kid we've been able to handle. It's those 6-4, 6-5 kids that give us trouble.''
Wasilla's played just one game in Alaska, losing to Chugiak 62-61 on a 3-pointer at the buzzer last weekend. Martin said that loss was particularly disappointing because Wasilla led 57-50 with a 1:30 left but could hit only 3-of-8 free throws down the stretch.
The Warriors began the year by taking fourth place at the Byron Johnston Classic in Midland, Tex.
Juneau (4-2) suffered tough losses to East Anchorage and Colony before handily defeating West at the Alaska Hoops Challenge in Colony last weekend. Houston said with this year's inexperienced lineup, players are still trying to find their roles on the team.
``Sometimes we look very good and sometimes we look like we don't know what we're doing,'' Houston said. ``We're still very tentative on the floor.
Senior Evan Tromble (15.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game) still shoulders much of the scoring load, but the rest of the team's points come from different sources every night. Against West, foward Ryan Monagle (5.8 ppg) had a team-high 18 points. Versus Colony, it was Jon Chapman (5.2 ppg) who stepped forward with 16 points.
The Crimson Bears will be missing 6-5 senior post Rick Carte for three to four weeks due to a sprained ankle. Carte is Juneau's second-leading scorer with nine points a game.
Houston said he expects both games to be very competitive, and stressed their importance as the only home games this month.
`This year we're the less-experienced team,'' Houston said. ``They're going to look to attack us right off the bat. Chuck's teams are always well-coached. We've just gotta compete and respond. And hopefully, we will.''