It took all of three seconds for the Crimson Bears to flip their planned David and Goliath series on it's head this weekend.
The Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team gained the unexpected size advantage Friday, when the Wolves' star 6-foot-8 post Eli Yaw was injured on the opening tip of their two-game series. The Crimson Bears (12-5 overall, 0-2 Southeast Conference) used those extra inches while sicking their full-court press on their visitors, squeezing out a 74-53 win Friday and a 75-58 victory Saturday.
The Wolves (5-10 overall, 2-4 Cook Inlet Conference) were outsized at nearly every position for the remainder of the weekend and turned to returning Juneau-Douglas' press with a full-court trap of their own. The resulting hectic pace may have left more than one referee gasping for air, as the teams combined for 155 free-throw attempts over the two games.
"We like to play fast, but we don't like to foul like that," said JDHS coach Steve Potter. "We did a much better job in transition, especially in the second half (Saturday) and we're finding the open guy instead of throwing unpredictable passes."
JDHS held a large advantage in freebies on Saturday, as they hit on 25 of their 47 attempts from the line. Eagle River was able to hit on just 14 of their 35 free throws.
"They were all fouls. These were just extremely physical games and the refs kind of caught on to calling them," Bears senior post Eric Gross said.
Gross spent the most time at the charity stripe of any player, converting 12 of his 14 attempts on the way to a game-high 18 points. Gross also pulled down five rebounds.
"I'm pretty comfortable shooting free throws if I have to," Gross said. "I usually end up shooting a lot - it's just the position I play and I shoot a pretty good percentage."
Juneau-Douglas led nearly from start to finish, as they jumped out to a 14-4 lead in the first quarter thanks to their attacking press. Junior wing Cody Grussendorf kicked off the Bears offense with attacking drives early, picking up swooping lay-up, a free throw and dropping off a slick assist to senior Geoff Craig during the early spurt.
Eagle River forward Dominic Young responded late in the first with a one-man five-point spurt that pulled the Wolves back within 14-9. Juneau-Douglas junior guard Alex DeRocher capped the period with a lay-up to put his team back up by seven, though, and followed with three quick points to open the second. Eagle River trailed by double digits for the remainder of the game.
The Crimson Bears were able to give three freshmen - guards Lance Ibesate and Tony Tudao along with forward Evan Gross - playing time in the second half, and the first-year players helped JDHS cruise to the foul-riddled win.
Tudao led the group with three points after hitting a bomb, and helped rile the crowd with a football-style pass to Craig for a breakaway dunk attempt that hit off the back iron in the third quarter.
DeRocher added 14 points for the Bears, including a pair of three-pointers. Grussendorf chipped in 10 points, and senior Corey Mahar racked up nine points along with team highs of seven rebounds and six assists.
Tevin Condit led Eagle River with 14 points while both Nate Yaw and Maxwell Harvey chipped in 10.
JDHS next hosts former SEC rival Sitka, who dropped to the 3A level this season, on Friday and Saturday.
"We're definitely still excited to play them since they're from Southeast. Any team from around here we want to play," Gross said. "I think they're actually going to be better this year. This seems like the season they've been building towards."
JDHS 74, Eagle River 53
The injury to the Wolves' Eli Yaw brought a hush on the crowd early, but the JDHS backcourt wasted little time getting their fans back in it.
Grussendorf and DeRocher hit for 14 points apiece and Gross chipped in 12 as the Bears cruised another foul-lengthened victory to start the weekend.
"I think (Eli Yaw's injury) definitely changed things for both teams," Potter said. "Without a standout guy, there wasn't anybody to focus on and we just played our game."
The Wolves' offense looked immediately out of sorts without their injured big man, falling behind 14-2 after the first period. Juneau-Douglas led by double digits for the rest of the night.
The teams combined for 73 free throws in the contest. JDHS hit 19 of their 37 attempts, while Eagle River made 16 of their 36 tries.
Gross again amassed a game-high 8 charity attempts, hitting four of them.
Mahar again led the team with 11 rebounds, chipping in six points along the way.
Buron Bell and Nate Yaw led Eagle River with 10 points apiece.
"The Eagle River kids played extremely hard, but I know they were disappointed that their big guy went down," Potter said. "I wish I could say our kids never stopped playing hard. Maybe we can take something from them."
The JDHS junior varsity team hosted Sitka's junior varsity in their weekend games, dropping the visitors both times by scores of 66-60 and 55-46. Paul Tupou led the effort with a game-high 13 points on Friday and Ibesate had a team-high 11 on Saturday.
The JDHS "C" team also squared off against their Sitka counterparts, winning 43-40 and 56-26. Travis Godfrey scored a game-high 15 points on Friday, while Ryan Kelly chipped in a game-high 13 on Saturday.