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The final hour of the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team's Monday morning practice consisted almost entirely of running and breaking out of defensive traps.
Crimson Bears coach Steve Potter stopped the practice frequently and explained to his panting players about where to go and why. A full understanding of breaking the trap will be crucial if JDHS hopes to get past South Anchorage at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Alaska School Activities Association Class 4A State Basketball Tournament at West Anchorage High School.
"We're trying to harp on these guys to be quick and that they get the reminders of if we break down, this happens," Potter said. "We don't have one guy everyone looks to to save us. The guys have everyone's respect."
That kind of respect and chemistry between the players will be crucial. JDHS will be expected to execute under duress Thursday. A successfully run press-break should lead to easy points. A bad pass or errant dribble, though, will give South momentum.
"If we dribble too much, it's trouble," Potter said. "As you can see, nothing we practice involves a lot of dribbling."
Seemingly most of Juneau-Douglas's season has been preparing the squad for Thursday's contest.
Juneau played the fourth most difficult schedule in the state, according to the state's win percentage index formula. While the WPI only factors in games against Alaska Class 4A competition, Juneau also tested itself against an elite team from California, split two games against defending Class 3A state champion Petersburg and dropped a close game to Class 3A state qualifier Heritage Christian in Anchorage.
The majority of teams JDHS faced out of conference featured the kind of pressure it will most likely see against the Wolverines.
The battled-tested Bears should be ready for any contingency.
"We don't really see a full court, but a lot of three-quarters and half-court pressure," Potter said. "Our press break works against both, if we execute it.
"The last couple of times - end of the Colony game not withstanding - we did all right. They're getting better with it."
The Colony game Potter referred to was a 53-47 loss at home on Jan. 27 in which the Knights used their pressure defense to come back from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Since that loss, though, JDHS won six of its final nine games.
"We prepare to work against a press," JDHS senior Dominique Brinson said of the Bears' practice. "We have to box out because they have athletic players and we need to work on our defense."
South Anchorage enters the game as one of the state's hotter teams. The Wolverines downed West Anchorage and Service in the Cook Inlet Conference tournament to seal a state tournament berth.
The Bears and Wolverines opened the season on Dec. 15 in the Joe Floyd Tournament in Kodiak. South won the game 61-58. While both teams have progressed significantly since that game more than three months ago, the familiarity should help.
"It's nice we've seen them before," Potter said. "They're not some big mystery."
One of Juneau's main strengths throughout the year is its balance. While the team doesn't feature one dominant player, it does have a host of athletes who can produce in a variety of roles.
Brinson leads the team in scoring at 13.7 points per game. Eric Gross, a 6-foot-4 post player, has evolved into a reliable inside threat. By finding open space and taking advantage of Juneau's penetration, he's averaged 13.2 points in the Bears last five games.
JDHS routinely plays 10 to 11 players throughout a contest.
After testing everyone with a difficult schedule and significant minutes, the Bears hope to be at their maximum effectiveness Thursday.
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or email@example.com.