Many times during a game, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls basketball team turns steals and turnovers into points via a fast-break layup or transition jumper.
During the Crimson Bears' practice sessions, though, many times the steals are the points.
"We just want to force turnovers," JDHS coach Lesslie Knight said. "In practice, we score by defense. Steals, deflections and things like that count as points. It's about forcing teams to be reactive."
Juneau-Douglas' dedication to defense lifted the team to a No. 4 seed in the Alaska School Activities Association Class 4A State Basketball Tournament. The Bears open the tourney at 1 p.m. Thursday against defending state champions Wasilla at West Anchorage High School.
Much of Juneau's defensive philosophy relies on the premise of forcing the action. Instead of reacting to what the opposing offense runs, the Bears want the opposition to react to their pressure.
"Basically, it's wanting to play defense," Juneau guard Kayla Harrison said.
In particular, the Crimson Bears' defense led to big wins in the last few weeks.
Juneau's most notable win came on March 8. The Bears forced 23 steals to beat Ketchikan 53-31 for the Class 4A Southeast Conference title. The win halted a three-game losing skid to the Lady Kings as Juneau forced the opposition into 31 turnovers.
"Even though Ketchikan was down a ball-handler (starting point guard Laci Effenberger did not play due to injury), people saw what our kids are capable of defensively," Knight said.
While Juneau doesn't play many obvious traps or gimmicks during a game, its team speed and ability to anticipate can create a hectic and dizzying atmosphere on the court.
Freshman guard Karli Brakes recorded seven steals in the region title game, most of which came from straight-up, man-to-man defense.
One of the biggest weapons in the JDHS defensive arsenal, however, lies in its speed.
The Bears' double-team isn't used as a traditional trap, in which two people create a wall to force an opposing ball-handler into a turnover. Instead, Juneau's speed allows the team to employ a unique defensive maneuver. While in a full-court man-to-man, a defender from behind will sneak up on a ball-handler to pick her pocket for a turnover.
This can only happen if the player sneaking behind is fast enough to get back in the play while the defender fronting the ball-handler is quick enough to slow her progress.
"If we're in a full-court man (defense), we look to try to get one on the ball and if she spins, then there's one behind her," Juneau's Brittany Fenumiai said. "We anticipate."
The extra pressure can also force a bad pass, in which an all-too-eager Crimson Bear will be lying in wait.
"Even in college games, you see teams let the other teams pass first and then play defense," Knight said. "We want to control passing. We want to defend the passing lanes and take other teams out of their game."
The quarterfinal contest against Wasilla is a rematch of last year's Class 4A state title game, won by the Warriors 51-48.
The two teams met in Wasilla this season on Feb. 15 with JDHS winning 45-36.
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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