It's mid-term week for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team, which heads north this weekend for a three-game midseason progress report.
The Crimson Bears will see three teams that competed in last year's Class 4A state basketball tournament, including two teams they've already played - and lost to - this year.
"Our main focus is to do better and play better," Juneau coach George Houston said. "These are three good teams. It could be like a state tournament. We still have to qualify in Southeast first, but we play three good teams in a row like a state tournament. It's a real opportunity to see if we've made any progress."
Juneau, which moved into the No. 4 spot in the state basketball poll announced today, opens the trip in Palmer against the Colony Knights at 7:30 p.m. tonight, followed by the Chugiak Mustangs at 2:45 p.m. on Friday and the top-ranked Wasilla Warriors at 7 p.m. on Saturday. All three games will be broadcast live on KINY radio, 800 AM.
On the trip, Juneau (9-4 overall, 3-1 Region V-Class 4A) will get a chance to avenge two of its losses this season. The Crimson Bears played well but lost 57-52 to Wasilla in the first round of the Alaska Prep Shootout, then played poorly in a 57-46 loss to Colony in the second round of the tourney. Juneau has yet to play Chugiak this year.
The Crimson Bears are hoping to do better than they did on their last trip to Anchorage, when they beat Service but then lost all three of their games in the Alaska Prep Shootout to Wasilla, Colony and Lathrop. Juneau currently has a three-game winning streak and has won five of its six games since that trip.
"It seems like a good way to gauge our progress," Juneau guard Sterling Henderson said. "They've structured it a lot like a state tournament, with a game at 2:45."
"We feel like we've improved," Juneau forward Bryan Hamey said. "We're anxious for a chance to re-prove ourselves."
When Juneau played Colony, the Crimson Bears fell behind 17-8 in the first quarter and struggled with their shooting and rebounding all game. Even though the two teams match up well in height, Colony outrebounded Juneau 38-24 in the game. The Crimson Bears made just 23.8 percent of their field goals in the first half, improving to 36.2 percent of their shots by the end of the game.
Brandon Hyslip, a 6-foot-5 center, led the Knights against Juneau with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Jason Christensen added 11 points and Joe Reza scored 10 for Colony (9-7 overall) in that game. Guard Justin Coffman only had six points against Juneau, but last weekend he was in double-figure scoring both nights as Colony swept a two-game series from Kodiak, while forward Landon Swank, who didn't play in the Juneau game, posted a double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds) in the first game of the Kodiak series.
"Colony was probably our worst game of the season," said Juneau center-forward Byron Wild, who tied his career-high with 18 points last Saturday against Sitka.
"We know what we're going up against," Juneau guard Nik Hura said.
Juneau hasn't seen Chugiak (6-7 overall) yet this year, and the Mustangs have been kind of an enigma. The Mustangs have played well against some of the state's tougher teams, but also have losses to lesser teams such as unranked Class 3A squad Grace Christian School.
Chugiak has a tall roster - six players 6-4 or taller - led by 6-8 center-forward, Chris Devine, who has signed an NCAA Division I National Letter of Intent to play basketball for California-Santa Barbara next season. Devine scored 20 points and 5-10 guard Michael John had 12 points on Tuesday when Chugiak lost 60-49 to defending state champion and No. 2 Bartlett.
When Juneau played Wasilla, the Crimson Bears did well against the much taller Warriors, which has the tallest starting five in the state. Juneau was within one possession of tying the game until the final seconds in its loss to Wasilla.
Wasilla (12-2 overall and undefeated in Alaska) is led by 7-foot center Ray Schafer, who will play for the Oregon Ducks next season. Schafer had 19 points and 12 rebounds against Juneau, while 6-3 guard Buddy Bailey scored 15 points (most in the fourth quarter) and 5-10 guard Aaron Roth added 11 points. Wasilla also starts two 6-7 forwards - Mason Heibel and Luke Schafer. The Warriors beat No. 3 Palmer 63-43 on Friday, with Ray Schafer, 6-2 guard Cody Schierman and Bailey combining for 48 points.
"I like playing against Schafer and other big people like that," said Wild, who at 6-5 is one of the two tallest Crimson Bears.
"Our big guys and Wasilla's big guys have a lot of experience playing against each other," added the 6-4 Hamey, who scored 21 points in Juneau's Friday night victory over Sitka.
With Wasilla's big front line, Hura said the game could be decided in the backcourt. Henderson had 21 points against Sitka on Friday night, while Joe Ayers was in double-figure scoring on both nights against Sitka. Alex Heumann, though, is a question mark since he injured his right hand hitting a backboard in Tuesday's practice and had to go to the hospital for x-rays.
"When the other team has a lot of big guys, our responsibility as guards is to keep the pressure up," Hura said. "We can't let them get the ball inside, so we have to pressure the ball all the time."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.