Two games against the fourth-ranked team in the state this weekend were viewed as a measuring stick for Juneau-Douglas, and two wins would go along way in validating the Crimson Bears.
Consider coach Steve Potter’s club validated.
Juneau-Douglas hit its free throws down the stretch and managed to keep Wasilla at arm’s length as the Crimson Bears won for the second time in as many nights, 48-42 this time, against a team that entered the weekend No. 5 in the Winning Percentage Index, and fourth in the Alaska Basketball Coaches Association Poll.
Wasilla big man Connor Devine fouled out of the contest at the 3:26 to play in a 39-39 ball game, and the Bears took advantage. With the outside shot not falling — JDHS shot just 35 percent from the floor, including 1-for-8 from behind the arc — the Bears weren’t able to spread the floor against the 6-foot-9 Devine. But it was a different story when the big man took a seat for good.
Juneau-Douglas repeatedly attacked the paint when the anchor of Wasilla’s defense was on the bench, and the Bears finished the final 2:42 on a 9-3 run with all points coming in the paint or from the stripe.
“I thought we did a good job getting them to play at our tempo,” Potter said. “I thought we made them play faster than they wanted. We had a tough time with their bigs, but today we were a little more effective.
“We did a better job with Ryan (Baldwin) and (De’Andre) Jazz (King) going at (Devine) instead of going around him.”
Devine scored just five points on the night even though JDHS battled foul trouble as well — Baldwin fouled out in just eight minutes and Evan Gross played only nine minutes, racking up four fouls — but his absence at the end of the game was felt on the defensive end and on the boards. The big man also had nine rebounds and three blocked shots in about 23 minutes.
“Obviously (fouling out) meant a lot because he changes so much defensively. He rebounds the ball, defends, changes shots and he does a great job,” Wasilla coach Ryan Engebretsen said. “Unfortunately, he got called on a couple of things we didn’t agree with, but it is what it is and our guards have to keep guys out of the paint as well.”
Junior guard Tony Yadao paced the Bears with 10 points and junior Lance Ibesate, senior Edward Hurtte and junior Alec Calloway scored seven points each.
Braydon Kuiper led all scorers with 12 points. The Warriors did have their chances throughout the game, but Juneau-Douglas responded whenever Wasilla would make a move.
“Coach just regrouped us at halftime, saying if we wanted to win we had to come out with more defensive intensity. That’s what we did,” said Hurtte, who celebrated his 18th birthday with a win Saturday, and then was elevated to captain by his teammates afterward. “We got off to a slow start this season, but now we’re starting to trust our teammates and we’re really starting to come together.”
Juneau-Douglas once again overcame a slow start to win its fourth game in a row, but the first quarter was anything but a model of offensive efficiency. Neither side could keep control of the ball, and neither was able to capitalize on the other’s mistakes as two of the top six teams in the state labored to score just nine points combined in the quarter, with Wasilla leading 5-4.
Trailing 11-7 after the first 10 minutes of the game, the Crimson Bears found their rhythm during a 7-0 run midway through the second quarter. Two Colin Gozelski free throws, an Ibesate free throw and two layups from Yadao and Calloway sparked a Bears offense that had been stagnant for most of the early going. Still, once again, it all started with Juneau-Douglas’ defense.
The Bears adjusted their press in the second, eliminating Wasilla’s long, diagonal passes downcourt, and trapped the Warriors whenever possible, making Wasilla visibly uncomfortable getting into its offensive sets.
“That’s got to be our calling card — we have to hang our hat on our defense. Apparently we’re not the best shooters in the world,” Potter joked. “We have guys who can hit shots, but if our defense gets us easy opportunities, that’s what we need to do.”
Next up for the Crimson Bears (12-4, 2-0) is the crosstown rival Falcons (4-15, 0-4) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Thunder Mountain High School.
JDHS defense shines through on Friday
Juneau-Douglas played perhaps its best defensive game of the season Friday night in knocking off No. 4 Wasilla 51-44 in Juneau.
“Obviously, we had a couple of lapses but I thought we made it hard for them to get shots,” Crimson Bears coach Steve Potter said. “We didn’t want to foul (Connor Devine) quite as much, but we have to make people work against us and I thought, for the first time, that our guards and big guys were on the same page with their effort. The bigs were there providing backup and making it difficult for where they wanted to go.”
Wasilla led 10-9 at the end of the first quarter, but JDHS scored the first six points of the second after two straight old-fashioned 3-point plays to take a lead the Crimson Bears never relinquished.
Senior forward Colin Gozelski scored on a breakaway layup, made the free throw and then got a steal, passing to junior point guard Lance Ibesate for another layup and-1 for a 15-10 JDHS lead.
Another Gozelski steal led to a bucket inside for senior guard Edward Hurtte off a dish from Ibesate for the Bears’ biggest lead of the first half, 25-16, which was a 25-18 cushion at the break after Devine made a couple of free throws for Wasilla.
The Bears went ahead by 10 points after the 5-foot-5 Ibesate canned a tear-drop runner over the top of the 6-foot-9 Devine early in the third quarter.
Wasilla chipped away and pulled within three, 32-29, after junior Tyler Anderson followed his own miss inside and senior Cole Schierman scored an old-fashioned 3-point play as JDHS missed nine straight shots and two free throws.
Sophomore wing Phillip Fenumiai came off the bench for the Bears and splashed a huge 3-pointer from the top of the key, and Wasilla countered with a Wade Stahle bucket inside.
Junior guard Tony Yadao drove and dished to Hurtte inside for a bucket, and Fenumiai buried another 3-pointer from the wing to push JDHS back out by 7, 40-33. Fenumiai attempted another triple and missed, but sprinted toward the basket for an easy bucket after Gozelski corralled the offensive rebound and fed him for two, and a 42-32 JDHS lead.
“It was (a huge boost). Phillip’s got a nice shot and he’s got an offensive mindset. He’s an attacking player and he’s making the most of his opportunities,” Potter said of his sophomore wing’s instant offense off the bench. “It was a nice boost for us and it gave us just that little bit of cushion where we knew we could defend with confidence. We could be aggressive and gamble a little bit and make things difficult for them.”
Wasilla pulled within 6, 45-39, heading into the fourth quarter and after airballing a couple of 3-pointers, finally got one to drop to make it a 47-44 ball game as Yadao and Ibesate missed the front end of a 1-and-1 three straight times. But there was only 13 seconds left after Brayden Kuiper’s triple, and Yadao made four straight free throws to close the game, much to Potter’s relief.
“I think the guys do that on purpose just to see if they can make me lose all my hair before they leave,” Potter quipped, referencing the missed free throws that allowd the Warriors to make it a one-possession game.
The balanced Bears spread the ball around. Nobody reached double figures but five players scored at least six points. Hurtte led with nine points, Ibesate, De’Andre “Jazz” King and Fenumiai scored eight each, and Gozelski put up six. In all, 10 different players scored for JDHS.
“I think that’s when we’re at our best, when a lot of guys are scoring,” Potter said. “We have guys that are capable of having big scoring nights and when it happens that’s great, but I think part of what makes us potentially a good team is that we have a lot of guys that can score. Depending on how teams defend us, we have guys that are a threat at every position, and guys that can score off the bench.”
Devine, a possible Division I prospect, led all scorers with 14 points, and added 15 rebounds and nine blocks. He made just two field goals as 10 points came from the free throw line. JDHS chose to body him up with strong men Ryan Baldwin, 6-foot-6, and the 6-foot-4 King. Six-foot-7 center Evan Gross, closest in height to Devine, matched up with him for a time after Baldwin drew his fourth foul.
“I thought they all did a pretty good job on him,” Potter said. “He still was the leading scorer in the game but he didn’t get his stuff for free. He had to work for everything he got.”
The JV Bears also pulled out a 50-43 win behind 12 points from Fenumiai, 11 from both Jeffrey Pusich and Darien Stanger, and 10 from Jackson Lehnhart.