The Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team has played 22 games this season, eight against Region V-Class 4A teams.
But this is the time of the year when those past games don't mean a thing, even though the Crimson Bears posted records of 15-7 overall and 7-1 in region to win the regular-season region title.
If the Crimson Bears want their season to continue, they have to win one game on Friday night.
If they lose Friday's 9:15 p.m. Region V-Class 4A championship game in Ketchikan, the season's over for the Juneau boys. If the Crimson Bears win, they move on to the Class 4A state tournament next weekend in Anchorage.
"We're not going one-and-done," Juneau senior forward Bryan Hamey said. "We're confident."
On Friday, the Crimson Bears will face the winner of today's 4:45 p.m. game between the region runner-up Ketchikan Kings (8-13 overall, 4-4 region) and the third-place Sitka Wolves (10-13, 1-7). Juneau swept all four of its games against Sitka and won three of four games against Ketchikan. Juneau's only region loss came in Ketchikan, by one point, 63-62, on a free throw with no time left. The Crimson Bears handily beat Ketchikan the next three times the two teams met.
"We're 7-1 and our record shows we're the team to beat," Juneau senior forward Byron Wild said. "We're the big, bad bully, and we know everybody will be rooting against us."
"But we feed off that," Hamey said.
While the Crimson Bears projected confidence after Tuesday night's practice, there were some nerves evident. When one of their younger teammates started talking about the possibility of a loss, a couple of the seniors snapped at him and told him not to even think about losing.
One reason there might be an exposed nerve or two is four of Juneau's six seniors experienced a loss in the region tournament two years ago, the only time Juneau's lost a region tournament game in 10 years.
The Crimson Bears won the regular-season region title two years ago, but lost to Sitka 63-57 in the region tournament in Sitka after winning three of their four regular-season games. A disappointed Juneau boys team stayed home while the Wolves went to state that year. Juneau coach George Houston said the memories are painful, but they will motivate his Crimson Bears this weekend.
"I think it helps," Houston said. "They remember how much pain there was in that locker room after the game. They remember that failure. This is the same situation we faced two years ago in Sitka."
"We've seen what makes you lose and we've seen how you win," Hamey said.
By reclaiming the region championship last year, the Crimson Bears went a long way toward erasing some of the pain of losing the region title two years ago. Juneau beat Ketchikan 68-51 to win the region title, then went on to win the Southeast championship by knocking off Region V-Class 3A champion Craig 100-54 in the annual crossover game that pits the two region title winners.
Juneau went on to finish second in the state tournament, losing to Bartlett 77-64 in the Class 4A championship game. The Crimson Bears wouldn't mind a return trip to the state tournament to see if they can win a state title.
When Juneau won the regular-season region title, the Crimson Bears earned a first-round bye for the region tournament. That means the Crimson Bears get to sit back and watch Ketchikan and Sitka duke it out today for the right to play Juneau in Friday's title game. The Crimson Bears said they didn't care which team they face on Friday night.
"As long as we go out and play our game, we don't care," Juneau junior guard Alex Heumann said. "We've had some cliffs and valleys this season. But it doesn't matter who we get as long as we play our game."
"We know they'll go as hard as they can against us," Juneau junior forward Adam Nelson added.
Houston said his concern is more about how the Crimson Bears play rather than which team Juneau faces for the title.
"We've had a couple of tough games against both teams," Houston said. "We have different problems with either one. They'll give us different looks and things to prepare for. We need to be able to perform and execute.
"It doesn't matter who we get, especially with the rest of the region (the other teams and fans) rooting for them (Juneau's opponent). They'll be rooting for whoever we play. It doesn't matter if it's the Little Sisters of the Poor."
If Juneau wins on Friday night, it will play the Region V-Class 3A champion at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday for the Southeast championship. Friday's game will be broadcast live in Juneau on KINY radio, AM 800, and so will Saturday night's game if it involves the Juneau boys. The Class 4A state tournament takes place March 20-22 at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.