After 14 games, it's time for the real season to start for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team.
The Crimson Bears have eight games left in the regular season, and all eight are Region V-Class 4A games. The first 14 games were non-conference, so starting with this weekend's series at Sitka things get down and dirty for the Crimson Bears. The Juneau boys play at Sitka at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday (games broadcast on KINY radio, 800 AM).
"These are our first conference games. This is when the season starts," Juneau coach George Houston said during Wednesday night's practice. "It's always more difficult playing in league."
After winning 10 of the last 11 Region V-Class 4A championships, the Crimson Bears (6-8 overall, 0-0 region) are a marked team in region play. Even though Juneau has struggled this year, Sitka and Ketchikan always gain immense satisfaction when they beat the Crimson Bears.
The Crimson Bears don't want that to happen, especially since Sitka rings a victory bell after the Wolves win home games, turning them into big celebrations.
"They definitely always play harder against us," Juneau senior forward David Jones said. "I remember a couple of years ago, the year Sitka beat us at regions (2001). The week before regions we won at the buzzer when Joe Ayers hit a running 3-pointer ... then we lost the next night. I've never seen Coach so mad, even when we lost at Ketchikan."
Sitka struggled early this year, but the Wolves (5-10 overall, 2-0 region) beat Ketchikan twice last weekend, 66-53 on Friday and 44-39 on Saturday. Even though Ketchikan was missing two starters, Sitka won without leading scorer Andrew Broschat, who was ill. Houston said he expects Sitka will bring a lot of confidence into this weekend's games.
"These are Sitka's last region games at home, and they have the opportunity to go 4-0 in league at home," Houston said. "Our motto is we don't want to hear the bell."
While Juneau and Sitka haven't played yet this year, they both went to the East T-Bird Classic and got to see each other in action. Juneau finished sixth in that tournament, while Sitka took eighth place and was winless.
"We've seen Sitka and they've seen us, so I expect no surprises," Houston said.
"We're pretty excited," Juneau senior guard Rob Carte said. "We watched them and we know how they set up their offense."
The Wolves like to spread out their offense and they run a couple of delay sets, Houston said. Because Sitka tries to slow down the tempo of the game, it can create problems for teams that try to run on the Wolves.
"They run their offense really slow and they've got three people across halfcourt on defense," Juneau senior guard Alex Heumann said. "We're going to have to be patient with our offense."
"Their guards are faster than ours, but they're not offensive-minded," Jones said. "Inside we have more power with Adam (Nelson) and Josh (Monagle)."
The Wolves don't have much size, as 6-foot-4 senior Mitch Hawk is their biggest player. But the Wolves are bigger than they were last year, with seven players who are 6-2 or taller. Last year, Juneau was able to contain Hawk in the post, and the Wolves couldn't counter on the perimeter. Broschat, a junior, and sophomore E.B. Crow are both 6-2 players who can shoot the ball, and the trio of Broschat, Hawk and Crow have been Sitka's top scorers.
After two weeks with key players out for injuries or illness, Juneau is healthy entering this series, other than reserve freshman Clae Baker's tweaked ankle. Nelson, who missed four games and didn't start a fifth game with an Achilles' tendon injury, is back practicing with the team. Heumann, who missed a game to a 24-hour flu bug, also is healthy.
Last weekend, Juneau lost two games to No. 4 Lathrop, 66-51 on Friday and 74-64 on Saturday. The Crimson Bears didn't have Nelson and Heumann, their captains, for the first game and they stayed with the Malemutes until late in the contest. The next night Heumann started and Nelson came off the bench, but the Crimson Bears struggled until the second half.
"I think the first game woke up some of the bench guys," sophomore point guard Tres Saldivar said. "Now we're deeper and we know we can play without them. We let down a little bit in the second game, and we can't do that anymore. We're pretty excited about it (starting region play). We're looking to go undefeated in conference."
Besides the varsity squad, Juneau also took its junior varsity and C teams to Sitka. The JV games are at 6:15 p.m. each night and the C team games are at 4:30 p.m.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.