The Bears know their conference record.
If they didn't, then their parents, friends, neighbors, dentists and friendly local milkman have all probably reminded them about the spare tire swinging from the front of their 4A Southeast Conference tally.
Regional rival Ketchikan is the only other doggy on the SEC pile this season, and the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team will finally get their chance to break even on bragging rights tonight and Saturday in a pair of Senior Night matchups that both tip off at 8 p.m.
The Crimson Bears (15-4 overall, 0-2 SEC) dropped their only two previous conference matchups in Ketchikan on the weekend of Jan. 23-24 in ugly fashion. The smaller hosts scattered the JDHS offense in a wild pace on the first night, winning 67-50 while holding the Bears to just 29 percent shooting from the field. Momentum seemed to swing Juneau-Douglas' way the next night as they hit on 55 percent of their field goals and manhandled the Kings on the boards. The hosts slipped away again, though, behind 11 timely three-pointers and 20 free throws.
"Ketchikan's our conference rivals and they have more wins against us in the last few years than any other team," JDHS head coach Steve Potter said. "Every time we play them we know you're only as good as your last game against Ketchikan. They beat us a month ago, and it feels like we've had it hanging over our heads for a lot longer than that."
The Kings (10-10 overall, 2-0 SEC) have not fared quite so well against out-of-conference foes since their first games against JDHS. The diminutive squad posted just a 3-5 mark in their next eight games and have fallen to .500 on the year. The streak has included four straight defeats at Lathrop and Dimond by an average of nine points per contest.
"Wins and losses have never been that important to me," KayHi head coach Eric Stockhausen said. "On record it might be disappointing, but it's a process of getting better at what you do. The results will follow in the end and the kids are having fun playing the game."
The Crimson Bears have certainly enjoyed playing their game as well, hunkering down for an 8-1 record since falling behind in the SEC race. Their only loss in the span came at Colony on the fifth day of a five-school whirlwind roadtrip and was prefaced by four double-digit wins over West Valley, North Pole, Bartlett and Service, respectively.
The Colony loss also featured a JDHS team that was without injured senior wing Alex Fagerstrom and junior point guard Reese Saviers, who was out with the flu. Both are expected to return for this weekend's games. Saviers has already returned to see limited action, but Fagerstrom will make his first trip on the floor since severely spraining his ankle in the opener of the long roadtrip at West Valley.
Junior Alex DeRocher and freshman Lance Ibesate have filled in and played well at the shooting and point guard spots, respectively, since the injuries. Potter credits the younger varsity players for taking advantage of their opportunities thus far, but still plans on keeping his trusty veterans on the floor during season's final games.
"It's hard to say if (the rotation) opens up in these games. It certainly has the potential to," Potter said. "When it's crunch time we want to shore up the rotation to eight or nine guys we're going to play. If there's some foul trouble or bad play, we know we can go deeper than that."
Both teams will be healthy for the weekend's games, as Stockhausen said he will likely play "one or two guys" who have been touch-and-go with recent ailments.
The Kings won their most recent game at Wasilla 77-67 by matching their past carpet-bombing of JDHS with 11 three-pointers, including six in the third quarter.
"We're mostly guards to begin with and everybody we play is bigger than us," Stockhausen said. "We don't make excuses for it. If (three-pointers) end up being the shots we get, we've got some guys who can knock it down."
JDHS has worked over the past two weeks on maintaining pressure on the Kings' outside shooters, and hard work on defense is the only sure way of stopping the bombardment, Potter said.
"They're going to shoot them no matter what," the coach added. "We just have to make sure they're shooting contested threes and not wide open ones."
Ultimately, though, the plan for the Bears is simple this time around - just take care of the ball. JDHS forked over the leather 46 times between the first two matchups after getting caught up in the Kings' scurrying ways.
"They try to make it a frantic pace. Their strategy is to make you play too fast," Potter said. "We forced (43) turnovers of our own, but we didn't take advantage of some of ours. We handed it right back, and then they'd score with it."
The return of Saviers and Fagerstrom on the perimeter could help with the ball handling, as could the two straight weeks of practice that spanned last week's free weekend. The Bears had been practicing for just two or three days per week for much of the season, and Potter was happy to get some final prep work in.
JDHS will again have just two days for practice between Saturday's Senior Night ceremonies and the team's departure for Wednesday's tip-off of the 4A Southeast Conference Regional Tournament in Ketchikan. The Bears and Kings will meet Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m. in the best-of-three series for the region's lone spot at the state tournament March 19-21 in Anchorage. If necessary, Friday's third game will tip off at 4:45 p.m.
The Juneau-Douglas team is hoping that their home crowd over the rivalry weekend will help them prep for another trip into the wild atmosphere at KayHi.
"There's alot more buzz around the school about these games. People haven't really been as excited this year as they have been in the past," Potter said. "I think this crowd will be rowdy. They'll be cheering for the other team at the tournament, but this will be good preparation."
The five seniors who will be recognized prior to Saturday's game are Fagerstrom, Eric Gross, Corey Mahar, Sean Bavard and Geoff Craig.
"All of those kids have put in hard work and deserve the recognition," Potter said. "They're great senior leaders and hard-nosed kids. I'm sure (KayHi) is really looking forward to coming here and sending the message that we can't beat them. I know these guys are going to try and stop them from doing that."
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