The Juneau-Douglas boys’ basketball team tips off in its sixth straight state tournament appearance Thursday, but the Crimson Bears haven’t exactly had the best of luck in recent years.
Since 2006, JDHS has lost five straight opening-round games, with four losses coming by an average of just 3.5 points, one in overtime. Wasilla rolled to a 69-46 win in the first round last year and edged the Crimson Bears for the No. 3 tournament seed this season, even though JDHS swept the Warriors in a weekend series Feb. 4-5.
Joining fourth-seeded Juneau-Douglas, who plays No. 5 North Pole on Thursday at 11:30 a.m., on the top half of the bracket in the 2011 ASAA/First National Bank Alaska State High School Basketball Championships is No. 1 Bartlett against No. 8 Kodiak.
No. 2 West faces No. 7 Palmer and No. 3 Service takes on the aforementioned Warriors in the bottom of the bracket.
“I think that it’s pretty much wide open,” JDHS coach Steve Potter said of the tournament draw. “As long as we weren’t coming in as the seven or eight seed, then we’ve got to be pretty happy with what we got.”
North Pole boasts All-State first-teamer Jesse Ward at forward, second-team guard Eli Sponseller and forward Kody Broderick, an All-State Honorable Mention, as its top players.
Potter said the Patriots aren’t very deep, but Ward, who puts up 17.7 points per game, is a southpaw stud at 6-foot-6 who can run the floor and shoot from the perimeter.
“They have some big guys that are pretty talented, but they don’t play a lot of guys. It’s going to be important for us to be sound defensively, first and foremost,” he said. “Jesse Ward ... is a 6-6 left-handed kid and he’s a shooter — not just big, but he shoots it, too.
“We’ll probably start with Colin (Gozelski) on him because he can go out on the floor and guard guys,” he continued. “We’ve seen him before because he’s been starting for them since he was a sophomore, but he’s still good. Just because we’ve seen him before doesn’t mean it’s any easier.”
The 6-foot Sponseller, who averages 8.1 points and 4.2 assists, is the Patriots’ big threat out of the backcourt.
“The word that we’ve gotten is he’s pretty good if you let him go right, so we’ll try to limit that,” Potter said of defending Sponseller. “They have some other guards that aren’t renowned for their ball handling abilities, so hopefully we can put some pressure on them.”
Broderick, a 6-foot-6, 190-pound post who averages 11 points and eight boards, controls the lane for the Patriots and is a good rebounder, Potter said.
“He’s a double-figure rebound guy (most nights) and it’s important to stop him,” he said. “We certainly have the size to (control the glass). It will be different for us after playing so many games against Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum — they’re small and North Pole is not small.”
The Patriots beat the visiting Crimson Bears 54-46 last season.
“We play them once every three years or so,” Potter said. “The times that we’ve played them in the past (their style of play) was trapping and pressing, change defense every possession and try to confuse you. I think this year they’ve backed off that and they sag like Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain were doing this year. The difference is they’re sagging with bigger guys on the inside.
“Hopefully we can get some stuff in transition, but we’ve just got to make sure we’re patient on the offensive end. We’ve got to make them work,” he continued. “As long as we’re moving well, making hard cuts and doing our best to keep them off the boards, then we’ll be alright.”
The Crimson Bears will face either Kodiak or Bartlett in the second round, and JDHS has already put a 75-54 thumping on Kodiak this season.
“We played Kodiak at their tournament this year and beat them by around 20,” he said. “They tried to up-tempo everything. The first time you could see the basket was a good shot. And they had some kids that could shoot the ball, but the game they won to get in the (state) tournament, they won 32-30, so apparently they’ve altered that style a little bit.”
JDHS has not played Bartlett this season.
“They’re super athletic, they play a lot of guys and are definitely up-tempo,” Potter said of Bartlett. “It would be exciting for us to get the opportunity to go up against those guys.”