To hear her players tell it, Crimson Bears coach Lesslie Knight could freeze a Southeast cruise ship in its wake with a stomp and two-fingered whistle.
"We don't really pay attention to the crowd," junior forward Brittany Fenumiai said. "Coach Knight is all we hear when she's got something to say. She makes it kind of hard to miss."
Ignoring the fury of the Southeast high school basketball fans who shook Juneau-Douglas High School's gym over the past two weekends is a much tougher task when the cheers turn to boos in the home of 4A Southeast Conference rival Ketchikan. That is exactly what will happen tonight, Thursday and, perhaps, Friday when the teams' best-of-three regional tournament tips off at KayHi.
Juneau-Douglas (15-5 overall, 2-2 SEC) is hoping their latest trip to Ketchikan will look more like their home sweep on the weekend of Feb. 20-21, rather than the Lady Kings' own home two-win weekend in late January.
The starting five of the Lady Kings (15-4 overall, 2-2 SEC) dominated the January matchups, with four of those players scoring nine or more points in both games. Star point guard Laci Effenberger averaged 16 points per game over those contests, while her running mate Crystal Blair pumped in 15.5 points per game.
The Crimson Bears were able to use their two advantages in the February series - size and depth. Nine JDHS players scored in each of those games, led by forwards Fenumiai and Taylor Larson with 14 and 13.5 points per contest, respectively. They also out-rebounded their opponent 72-55 between the two victories.
"Winning those games boosted our confidence a lot," Fenumiai said. "But, truthfully, winning this week's games just depends on who plays harder and who wants it more."
The Bears were helped in the second series by the return of sophomore Sarah Tarver, who had been on a family trip during the earlier matchups. The lanky forward picked up 10 points and eight rebounds in the home stand.
The two squads have circled this week on their schedule since the division's third team, Sitka, dropped to 3A prior to the season. Sitka's drop guaranteed a season-ending rematch of the 2008 regional championship. JDHS won that game 53-31 behind four quarters of exhausting man-to-man fullcourt pressure.
The best-of-three format puts a new twist on the rivalry's next chapter, as the battles turn into a potentially-lengthy war. As is Southeast tradition, many of the battling players will also share housing over those three days.
"We've played in the state tournament. We play at least three games every time we go to Anchorage," Knight said. "The format won't be completely new to us. I think we have the depth to play for three days and that might be our advantage."
The Bears were able to use that bench in their home games, as they forced 44 trips to the free throw line and held the Lady Kings to just 15 free throw attempts.
Regardless of the depth and drag-it-out strategy, Fenumiai said she is hoping the team can build off their momentum and "get it over with" by Thursday night.
Tonight's and Thursday's girls games tip off at 6:30 p.m. and Friday's, if necessary, tips off at 3 p.m. Streaming radio coverage from Ketchikan will be available online at kfmj.com. Periodical updates also will be posted on the AlaskaPreps.com girls basketball message board.
Juneau Empire ©2015. All Rights Reserved.