The Lights keep getting brighter.
Boasting two key additions from the squad that beat them in last year's final, Marlintini's Arctic Lights opened the 2004 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament's A Bracket with a 101-83 victory over Sitka ANB/ANS at Juneau-Douglas High School.
It was actually Marlintini's second game of the tournament. On Sunday, they filled an empty slot in the B Bracket for an exhibition against the defending B Bracket champion Haines Merchants, and lost 131-115.
But the Lights were lacking sharpshooter Jon Madison and post Shaun O'Shea, who played for Anchorage's Northwest Strategies last year. Both played - and made their presence felt - with Marlintini's on Wednesday.
"Haines kind of took it to us on Sunday," said Marlintini's Josh Lockhart, who scored 20 points. "It definitely made a difference with those two guys on rebounding and screens."
And scoring. Madison poured in 28 points - topped only by Jason Bavard's game-high 33 - for the Arctic Lights, who took an 11-4 lead with 17:20 left in the first half when O'Shea snared a rebound and immediately shot a pass upcourt to a wide-open, running Robert Casperson for a layup.
Madison followed with a 3-pointer to make it 14-4 Marlintini's at the 16:48 mark.
Sitka started to chip away with help from Karel Uddipa. The former Sitka High School player completed a three-point play and sank a pair of 3-pointers in less than two minutes to draw Sitka within six - 21-15 - with 12:55 to go in the half. Two minutes later, Sitka's Mitch Mork hit a jumper to trim the Lights' lead to 23-21.
But Madison answered with a 3-pointer from the right corner to put Marlintini's up by five at the midway point of the half. Jason Bavard hit a trio of 3-pointers for Marlintini's before halftime, and he combined with Lockhart on a give-and-go for a layup off a steal to put Juneau up 42-28 with 5:25 to go.
Sitka's David Johnson hit a pair of 3-pointers - the first of his five in the game - in the closing minutes of the first half to keep Sitka in contention.
Johnson, who played high school ball at Angoon but has been living in Sitka recently, said he feels comfortable on the JDHS court. He played several prep games there, and participated in basketball camps run by Juneau boys coach George Houston.
"This court is fun to play on," Johnson said. "The rims are soft, it's a nice, wide court. It's like a second home."
Casperson hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left in the first half to give the Lights a 56-41 lead at the break.
Marlintini's increased its lead to as much as 24 points in the second half, when Bavard drilled a 3-pointer with 13:16 to play. But Sitka - trailing 85-66 with less then eight minutes left in the game - made another run, with Uddipa again leading the charge.
Uddipa had steals on consecutive Marlintini's possessions, and made layups on each to cut the lead to 85-72 with 7:03 to go. A half-minute later Uddipa then took a long pass off a rebound by Walker to make it 85-74, and he drew Sitka to within nine points - 92-83 - on a basket with 3:52 left in the game.
But Marlintini's held Sitka scoreless the rest of the way.
"They're all fundamental players, fundamentally sound," said Johnson, who finished with 21 points. "They ran the ball on us, and had a lot of fast-break points."
Uddipa also finished with 21 points for Sitka, which was a team cobbled together in the last few days after several players backed out, according to post Steve Walker.
"This is a put-together team, the first time we played together," said Walker, who added that he is moving and this will be his last Gold Medal tourney. "These guys (the Lights), they just ran us."
In Wednesday's other A Bracket game, Filcom of Juneau - a replacement for Ketchikan - beat the Juneau All-Stars 82-73.
Marlintini's and Filcom will face off at 9 p.m. tonight in the winners' bracket, with the winner advancing to Saturday's championship game. Sitka - which played better in the second half Wednesday - will face the All-Stars at 9:30 a.m. this morning in the losers' bracket.
With their first official game behind them, the Lights are feeling confident about their chances to regain the A Bracket title.
"It felt good to get out there and run up and down a little bit," Lockhart said.
"We tried to feel out our roles a little bit," Casperson said. "I liked what I saw, and I think we'll try to do a little better tomorrow."
Filcom 82, Juneau All-Stars 73
Filcom used balanced scoring to rally from an eight-point halftime hole and beat the Juneau All-Stars in Wednesday's late A Bracket game.
Joe Pelayo scored 15 points, Jimmy Carson and Jon Andrew Malacas added 14 each, Danny Baxter scored 13 and Jon Carlo Malacas netted 10 points for Filcom, which was a substitute team for absent Ketchikan and featured several former Juneau-Douglas High School players.
Brice Searles, a former assistant coach at JDHS and former West Anchorage head coach, scored a game-high 31 points for the All-Stars. Wil White of Gustavus, who played for Southern Oregon University, added 17.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.