On paper, Monday's B Bracket matchup between Huna ANB and Kake Tlingit Heat promised to be a barnburner for fans at the 59th Annual Gold Medal Basketball Tournament.
In reality, the only late-game suspense was whether or not Huna would reach a win of mercy-rule proportions.
After falling to Kake in overtime in last year's B Bracket championship game, a revitalized Huna squad rekindled the rivalry with a dominating 109-70 victory at Juneau-Douglas High School. When Huna's lead reached 40 with about three minutes left in the second half, officials implemented a running clock under mercy rules.
"It was defense - that's what we stressed when we came together," Huna's Russell Dick said of his team's performance. "We're going to play defense this tournament, and everything is going to come from that."
In Monday's other B Bracket game, Hydaburg defeated the Haines Merchants 91-82. Huna and Hydaburg advance to meet in a semifinal game on Thursday night. Kake and Haines fall into losers' bracket games on Wednesday, where they'll face the winners of today's losers' bracket matchups - Yakutat vs. Metlakatla at 4 p.m., and Klawock vs. Angoon ANB at 9 p.m.
Huna found success in Monday's game against Kake thanks to defense - and the return of Nate Strong. Strong, who was Huna's dominant force in the paint for half a decade before being sidelined last year due to illness, scored 30 points to lead the ANB, while Travis Dybdahl added 28.
"It takes a lot of pressure off Travis," Dick said of having Strong back. "It's a confidence factor for us. We know we have guys who can score - we just have to stop the other team."
Huna took a 7-0 lead before Kake got on the board on a bucket by Rudy Bean with 16 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first half. Gold Medal games are played with 20-minute halves.
Kake managed to keep its deficit with single digits for just over three more minutes, until Dybdahl sank a 3-pointer with 13:18 left in the half to put Huna ahead 22-10. That was the start of a 12-0 Huna run that ended with the ANB up 31-10 with 11:04 left in the half. Huna took a 48-23 advantage when Dybdahl made a 2-point basket with 2:23 left in the half.
"For some reason we did not come out to play," Kake's Bean said. "Huna came out double-barrels - they were ready to go."
One of the few bright spots for Kake was Anthony Dolan's buzzer-beating halfcourt shot at the end of the first half. With time running out, Dolan launched a running 3-pointer from the right side of the floor at halfcourt, which banked in to cut Huna's halftime lead to 55-35.
Huna didn't let up in the second half, and went on a 16-0 run over five minutes that resulted in a 75-39 lead with 13:38 left in the game. With 8:44 left, Strong completed what amounted to a five-point play - he made a basket while being fouled, sank two free throws on a technical foul called on a Kake player, then stepped back to the line to sink one more shot from the original foul. That put Huna up 90-54.
Shortly after, the referees mentioned the 40-point mercy rule to officials at the scorers' table. From that point on, it was a waiting game to see when Huna would reach that mark and force a running clock. Huna finally did when Anthony Lindoff caught a long pass from Albert Hinchman for a layup to put Huna up 108-67 with about three minutes to go.
Kamal Lindoff added 13 points for Huna, while Dick, Hinchman and Anthony Lindoff scored eight points apiece. Huna isn't going to get overconfident, though, as it tries to regain the B Bracket title it won in 2002.
"We've done this before - gone all the way through the winners' bracket and lost" in the final, Dick said. "This (win) only means we have to do it again."
Strong is glad to be back in Gold Medal again. He grew up in Tenakee Springs and played college basketball at several schools, winding up with a successful two-year stint at Biola University in California, ending in 2002. While coaching basketball in England last year, Strong suffered a life-threatening case of appendicitis with complications and was hospitalized for several months.
Strong said had to have several surgeries - the last in July - and he lost 70 pounds. He has rebuilt his strength as he studies for a masters degree in education at Montana State University-Billings, and he's glad to be back in Gold Medal.
"It's a lot of fun," Strong said. "I was pretty sick last year. I'm thankful to be able to run around with these guys again."
Bean scored 12 points to lead Kake, while Dolan and Kyle Gunderson added 11 points apiece.
"The only positive thing about this game is that we can only go up from here," Bean said. "Last year means nothing. We have a tough road ahead. It's not going to be easy - but we know we can do it."
After the game, tournament officials paid tribute to Sam Jackson, a Gold Medal Hall of Fame member from Kake who died of cancer last year.
Jackson competed in his final Gold Medal a year ago while being treated for cancer. When JDHS replaced its gym floor last summer, Crimson Bear boys assistant coach Steve Brandner saved the square of hardwood where Jackson launched his final 3-point shot. The piece of floor was framed with a photo of Jackson, and presented to his family on Monday.
Following the presentation, the tournament's opening ceremony included the U.S. Coast Guard color guard, the national anthem sung by Taylor Vidic and a benediction by Walter Soboleff.
Hydaburg 91, Haines Merchants 82
Matt Carle scored 43 points as Hydaburg beat the Haines Merchants in a winners' bracket game Monday in the B Bracket.
Darren Edenshaw added 20 points for Hydaburg, while Devin Edenshaw scored 13 and Sid Edenshaw had nine points.
Andrew Friske led the Haines Merchants with 21 points, while Ben Egolf scored 17, Luck Dunbar added 12 and Jesse McGraw chipped in 11 points.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
HUNA ANB 109, KAKE TLINGIT HEAT 70
Monday's winners' bracket game from JDHS
HUNA ANB (109) - Travis Dybdahl 10 7-8 28, Russel Dick 3 1-4 8, Nate Strong 10 9-9 30, Dove Lindoff 1 1-2 3, Kamal Lindoff 3 5-6 12, James Wilson 1 0-0 2, Andy Gray 1 1-2 3, Paul Johanson 0 0-0 0, Michael Mills 0 1-2 1, Albert Hinchman 1 5-6 8, Lucas Johnson 2 1-2 5, Anthony Lindoff 3 2-2 8. Totals: 35 33-43 109.
KAKE TLINGIT HEAT (70) - Rudy Bean 5 1-2 12, Nick Davis 1 0-0 3, Mike Smith 1 4-8 6, Anthony Dolan 4 1-2 11, Lloyd Davis 0 2-2 2, Brandon Jackson 2 2-4 7, David Watkins 0 2-4 2, Aaron Loges 3 0-0 9, Jay Peterson 2 0-0 5, Kyle Anderson 3 3-6 11, Scott Jackson 0 0-0 0, Shane Padgett 1 0-0 2. Totals: 22 15-28 70.
HUNA ANB 55 54 - 109
KAKE TLINGIT HEAT 35 35 - 70
3-point goals - Huna ANB 6 (K. Lindoff 2, Dybdahl 1, Strong 1, Dick 1, Hinchman 1), Kake Tlingit Heat 11 (Loges 3, Dolan 2, Anderson 2, Bean 1, N. Davis 1, B. Jackson 1, Peterson 1). Fouled out - Huna ANB 0, Kake Tlingit Heat 1 (Padgett). Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Huna ANB 24, Kake Tlingit Heat 28.
HYDABURG 91, HAINES MERCHANTS 82
Monday's winners' bracket game from JDHS
HYDABURG (91) - Travis Young 1 2-2 4, Matt Carle 14 11-15 43, Darren Edenshaw 7 3-4 20, Devin Edenshaw 3 6-8 13, Sid Edenshaw 2 5-8 9, Joe Young 0 0-0 0, John Carle 0 0-0 0, Jamall Travis 0 0-0 0, Al Nix 1 0-0 2, Archie Young 0 0-0 0, Harold Dilts 0 0-0 0, Vinnie Edenshaw 0 0-0 0. Totals: 28 27 37 91.
HAINES MERCHANTS (82) - Andrew Friske 7 5-8 21, Stuart DeWitt 2 2-2 7, Brian Friske 1 0-0 2, Luck Dunbar 5 2-2 12, Jesse McGraw 3 4-6 11, Ben Egolf 7 3-4 17, Brian Elliott 0 2-2 2, David Buss 0 0-0 0, Kevin Thompson 0 0-0 0, Tyler Healy 2 0-0 4, Jason Shull 2 0-0 6. Totals: 29 18-24 82.
HYDABURG 45 46 - 91
HAINES MERCHANTS 45 37 - 82
3-point goals - Hydaburg 8 (M. Carle 4, Da. Edenshaw 3, De. Edenshaw 1), Haines Merchants 6 (A. Friske 2, Shull 2, DeWitt 1, McGraw 1). Fouled out - None. Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Hydaburg 23, Haines Merchants 29.