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As the Juneau-Douglas High School basketball team headed north this morning to compete in the Palmer Elks Showdown, the Crimson Bears felt like this weekend can make or break their season.
After opening the season with a 5-0 record, the Crimson Bears have lost five of their last seven games to fall to 7-5 overall. With games against Chugiak this afternoon, Palmer on Friday and Homer on Saturday, Juneau could either reclaim its season or lose all of its momentum as it heads into the Region V-Class 4A portion of the schedule.
"This is the weekend to see if we come together," Juneau forward Ryan Monagle said. "We've really got to get our momentum."
The Crimson Bears lost a 60-51 game to Bartlett on Saturday they probably should have won, and the Juneau players are still smarting a bit about blowing their fourth-quarter lead. Add in a couple of deadly lapses that resulted in extended runs by their opponents in two losses to East Anchorage and a couple to Wasilla, and Juneau had a realistic chance to be 10-2 or 11-1 at this point of the season.
"We're not playing as good as we should be," Juneau center Leon Bus added.
Against Bartlett, Juneau only shot 33 percent for the game (19-for-58). The Crimson Bears hit some 3-pointers early, but never established an inside game. When the 3-pointers dried up, Juneau struggled to score. And Bartlett made 36 trips to the free-throw line, making 24, while Juneau was only 8-for-13 from the line.
"It was a wake-up call about things we have to do," Monagle said. "We have to get our inside and outside games going, and we need an even mix. Practice has been a lot better this week, we've been going really hard."
That makes this weekend critical. Juneau faces three middle-of-the-pack teams, but all three bring different styles to the court. Juneau plays Chugiak at 4:15 p.m. this afternoon, Palmer at 6 p.m. on Friday and Homer at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, with all three games being broadcast live on KINY, 800-AM.
Chugiak (6-6 overall) features a front line that features 6-foot-8 Nate Worrell, 6-7 Riley Fitt-Chappell, 6-5 Adam Fitt-Chappell, 6-5 Chris Devine, then a bunch of 6-3 guys, but the Mustangs used a 1-2-1-1 full-court trap to beat Juneau last year. Palmer (7-6 overall) doesn't have the same height as Chugiak, but is a quick team dominated by 6-1 guard-forward C.J. Hooker. Homer (2-4 overall), which is led by 5-11 guards Corey Boone and Skylar Burns, has three players who are 6-5 but also has three players shorter than 5-9.
The toughest game of the bunch will probably be against Chugiak, because Juneau is travelling before the game and Chugiak has a blend of size and speed. The Mustangs gave top-ranked East Anchorage all it could handle on Tuesday before East rallied to claim a 47-44 victory.
"Last year Chugiak ran a 1-2-1-1 full-court trap on us and they were kicking our tails with it," Juneau coach George Houston said. "They took it off and we made a run at them, but I think they were letting off on us. The key is the guards, we've got to put pressure on their guards. I'm looking at Homer and Homer's got some size, and Palmer's an up-and-down team that's quick. Each of the games is equally tough, and they bring different things. We've got to prove we can win some tough games on the road."
After this weekend, Juneau hosts Service -- which upset East last weekend -- next Thursday, then it's Region V-Class 4A games the rest of the way. Juneau hosts Ketchikan Feb. 16-17 for homecoming, then the Crimson Bears are on the road the rest of the season.
"This has been our toughest schedule overall," Houston said. "There are some really good teams, and they're really even. There are some teams that our getting better as the season goes on, and the teams that are peaking are the ones that will be going to state. We've got 10 games to get that experience, 10 games to get it figured out."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.