If the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team has had a nemesis the past couple of years, it's been the Ketchikan Kings.
Juneau has been ranked as one of the state's best teams in recent years. But it was Ketchikan that ended things early for the Crimson Bears the past two seasons, preventing Juneau from advancing to the Class 4A state tournament in Anchorage.
The two rivals will face each other again this weekend when Juneau hosts Ketchikan for a pair of Region V-Class 4A games Friday and Saturday at the JDHS main gym. The games are Juneau's final home games of the regular season, and they could go a long way toward deciding which team gets the first-round bye in the region tournament March 14-16 in Juneau.
The varsity games are at 8 p.m. each night, while the junior varsity plays at 6 p.m. and the C team plays at 4 p.m. The games will be broadcast locally on KJNO, 630-AM radio.
"We're very evenly matched," Juneau coach Jim Hamey said. "They'll be tough. I think they'll be low-scoring games, and they may not be real pretty. We'll have to have a strong team effort."
Ketchikan (14-2 overall, 2-2 in region) is ranked third in this week's state basketball poll, while Juneau (12-5 overall, 3-1 in region) slipped to fifth in the poll from fourth last week and third the week before. In the WPI (winning percentage index) standings used to seed the state tournament, Juneau ranks third behind two-time defending state champion and top-ranked East Anchorage and No. 2 Wasilla, the top-two teams in both the poll and WPI standings. Ketchikan is ranked fourth in the WPI standings.
Juneau and Ketchikan played two games last month in Ketchikan. On Jan. 18, the Kings blew open a close game in the fourth quarter to win 59-39. The Crimson Bears responded with a 42-33 victory on Jan. 19. Ketchikan split a two-game region in Sitka in early January, which is why the Kings are ranked second in the region standings.
"We know what we've got to do," Juneau senior center Hilary Rehfeld said. "We've got to get our offense working and our goal is not to let them get fast breaks on our defense. I think in the second game we all really slowed things down and concentrated on running our offense. Our bench really got into it, too."
"We really want to beat Ketchikan," senior forward Anna Capacci said. "I think it will be more like the second one, but our games are always close. In the second one, we were more in control of the game. They're always tough and the games are more physical than we're used to."
Ketchikan has been hot since playing Juneau last month, and right now is in the middle of a six-game winning streak. The Kings swept a non-region series from Sitka last weekend in Ketchikan, winning 59-24 and 60-31. Two weekends ago, Ketchikan won the Lady Lynx Invitational at Dimond High School, posting a 4-0 record on its road trip to Anchorage.
Since playing Ketchikan, Juneau was hot for a while, but lately the Crimson Bears have faltered a little bit. Juneau went 3-1 on a road trip to Anchorage, taking second place in East's T-Bird Classic. The Crimson Bears then swept a two-game region series from Sitka and lost two non-region games to East two weekends ago. Juneau split a two-game non-region series with Colony last weekend, winning 46-42 on Friday and losing 52-34 on Saturday.
"To be honest, I have no idea why we played so poorly," Hamey said about the loss to Colony last Saturday. "There's some lessons we still have not yet learned. We have to trust in our offense and we have to make every possession valuable. We didn't do that on Saturday."
"It showed us we have to keep going strong to the end of the season," Capacci said. "We've been working on running our offense. I think we were just worn out last week."
After last weekend's split with Colony, Juneau took a couple of days off from practice early this week. On Wednesday, the Crimson Bears returned to full practice sessions even if that day's practice was moved to Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School because of parent-teacher conferences in the JDHS gym.
"We got our rest days off and rested our legs," Rehfeld said. "Last weekend we were kind of out of it both mentally and physically. Ketchikan has really balanced scoring and they block out well under the boards. We'll be playing a lot of position defense against them."
"Ketchikan is probably going to do the same thing it's done every year we've played," Hamey said. "They'll drive to the basket and draw fouls, and they'll put pressure on our defense because we play man-to-man. They've got good athletes. They're hard-nosed kids, blue collar, and they come to play. We're anxious to play them again."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.