Winning Gold Medal titles is nothing new to the Prince of Wales women.
But the extra effort required Saturday to win their fifth Women's Bracket crown made the victory much more meaningful.
After falling to Juneau Imperial by 25 points on Friday, Prince of Wales rebounded to beat the Juneau team 74-66 on Saturday to claim the 2005 Gold Medal Basketball Tournament Women's Bracket title, its first since 2002.
"It feels sweeter than any other year," said Prince of Wales' Tina Isaacs, who scored 12 points and made the all-tournament team. "We had to fight so hard."
Prince of Wales won the first four Women's Bracket titles, from 1999-2002. In 2003, they lost to Lynden Transport - a team with almost the same lineup as Juneau Imperial - by a single point in the title game. Last year, both teams did not participate as the tournament changed its women's team invitation policy.
In their first meeting this year, in Friday's winners' bracket semifinals, Prince of Wales lost to Juneau 72-47, and had to beat the Sitka Cellar Team in Friday's losers' bracket game to earn the rematch.
Juneau jumped out to a 5-0 lead Saturday, but Prince of Wales came back to go ahead 8-7 on a bucket by Ann Williams with 15:04 left in the first half. Then Juneau went on a run - sparked by a pair of 3-pointers by Lucy Potter - that put Imperial ahead 29-16 with 6:39 remaining in the half.
Prince of Wales started to chip away, and Louise Walcott got hot from outside the arc, canning three 3-pointers - the last of which, with 1:09 left in the half, drew her team within five points, 36-31. Juneau led 38-34 at halftime.
The Prince of Wales women started strong in the second half, and Walcott tied the game at 38-all with 18:52 remaining when she banked in an awkward underhand toss. Ellen Hannon scored 35 seconds later to put Prince of Wales up 40-38.
Juneau got back ahead, 43-42, when Kara Lindley converted a three-point play with 16:44 left. Kacy Lockhart scored on an assist from Lindley to put Imperial up 47-43 with 15:02 remaining.
Then Prince of Wales went on its game-winning run. Walcott hit two free throws and a basket to tie the game at 49-all with 13:45 left, and over the next 90 seconds Jean Jackson hit two free throws and Isaacs made a shot to put Prince of Wales up 53-49. The lead reached nine, 62-53, when Walcott hit a 2-point basket with 6:20 remaining.
Prince of Wales didn't hit a field goal in the final 3 minutes, but went 8-for-10 from the free-throw line to stay ahead. Lockhart hit a 3-pointer with nine seconds left to cap the scoring.
Walcott, the tournament MVP, led all scorers with 27 points, including three 3-pointers. All-tournament selections Hannon and Jackson added 12 and 10 points for Prince of Wales, which stayed optimistic when it trailed early in the game.
"When we were down 10, it didn't feel like we were down 10," Walcott said. "We were playing hard. Because we kept playing hard, we kept them on their heels."
"We didn't get mad," Isaacs said. "We just stayed positive, and kept cheering each other on."
Much of that cheering was for Walcott, who didn't play in the opener because she was unable to make it to Juneau. Her teammates, including Isaacs and Joyce Moore, pooled some frequent flyer miles together to get Walcott to the tournament - and she made it worth their while, on and off the floor.
"Just having her here puts everybody at ease," Jackson said. "We feel very relaxed when she's out there."
"She gets us joking, gets our minds off the stress," Isaacs said.
Prince of Wales also benefited from the return of Jackson, who injured her ankle in Tuesday's opener and sat out in Friday's loss to Juneau Imperial. Jackson returned to help lead her team over Sitka to reach the title game.
"We were all just off" without Jackson, Isaacs said of Friday's loss to Juneau. "When Jean came back and played with us against Sitka, it settled us into our groove. Jean's presence on the court means so much to us."
With or without Jackson on the opposing side, Juneau Imperial played strong throughout the tournament, and in Saturday's final.
"They have three great guards - they're a great team," Jackson said of Juneau. "We knew we'd have to play our game, slow it up and get our posts going. Everyone worked together, the bench stayed alive - it was a real group effort."
Lockhart scored 25 points to lead Juneau Imperial, including four 3-pointers, and was named to the all-tournament team. Potter added 16 points, and Josie Ramirez chipped in eight points - and both also made the all-tourney team.
"Today they came out with more confidence, and they wanted it more," Lockhart said of Prince of Wales. "They shot really well, and they had a lot of put-backs. ...
"I look forward to the next matchup."
FRIDAY'S GAMES Juneau Imperial 72, Prince of Wales 47
Lucy Potter scored 17 points as Juneau Imperial beat Prince of Wales in Friday's Women's Bracket winners' bracket semifinal. The victory earned a spot in Saturday's title game for Juneau Imperial, while Prince of Wales had to play a losers' bracket game later on Friday.
Kara Lindley scored 13 points for Juneau Imperial, while Jocelyn Ramirez had 11, Brooek Gunstrom scored 10 and Karn Hickok added nine points.
Tina Isaacs scored 14 points to lead Prince of Wales, while Vanessa James had seven points.
Prince of Wales 72, Sitka Cellar Team 53
Tina Isaacs scored 18 points to lead Prince of Wales over the Sitka Cellar Team in Friday's losers' bracket final in the Women's Bracket.
The victory earned Prince of Wales a rematch with Juneau Imperial in Saturday's title game after POW lost to Juneau earlier on Friday. The Sitka Cellar Team was eliminated by the loss.
Jean Jackson, who was injured earlier in the tournament and didn't play in Friday's early game, returned to the Prince of Wales lineup and scored 15 points, while Ellen Hannon and Vanessa James scored 10 each and Ann Williams and Louise Walcott scored eight points apiece.
Yolanda Snively scored 20 points to lead the Sitka Cellar Team, while Sarah Barry added 10 points and Shannon Evans scored eight.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.