Sometimes, the third time is not a charm.
After dropping a pair of games - including a close Classic A Bracket championship contest - to Juneau-Marlintini's Arctic Lights in the 2002 Gold Medal Tournament, Northwest Strategies of Anchorage hoped to reverse its fortunes against the high-octane local team Thursday morning in an A bracket semifinal contest in the Juneau-Douglas High School gym.
But the Juneau team, getting a big assist from the self-destructive visitors, seasoned a well-executed game plan with a couple of outstanding individual performances to best Anchorage 102-91.
Juneau coach Ethan Billings said he was pleased to escape with the win, considering the quality of the opponent, which competed as United of Anchorage last year and was Deep Three of Fairbanks the year before.
"They're better than us on paper. We just got the breaks," said Billings, who was a member of the 1982 state champion JDHS squad. "I'm really happy with the way the defense played. We're a defensive team with offensive tendencies."
Considering the points Marlintini's posted, both collectively and individually, "tendencies" may be a bit of an understatement. Third-year player Josh Lockhart, coming off a 29-point performance in Monday's win against Tacoma, had a monster game. The speedy guard, a 1996 JDHS grad, was virtually unstoppable, lighting up the scoreboard for 40 points and receiving high praise from his coach.
"Josh is hard to stop. Whatever he gets is butter for everyone else," said Billings, who aided the cause with five points of his own. "I'd say he's the best guard in the tournament."
Northwest Strategies coach Jerry Mackie also took notice.
"Lockhart had a great game," Mackie said. "He's as tough as any guy in this tournament."
Lockhart took the stellar performance in stride and shared the credit with his teammates.
"I was getting good looks coming off screens and off the dribble," he said. "We wanted to be sure and set good screens offensively. Good passes came off our team offense."
So did a lot of points. Matched up against the larger Anchorage players, Marlintini's employed a patient, disciplined and methodical offense to get many hoops down low, while keeping Anchorage guessing with a sharp-shooting perimeter attack that accounted for 11 3-point baskets.
Anchorage, meanwhile, couldn't seem to find its rhythm. Trailing 46-41 at the break, the visitors put up the first five points of the second half, tying the game on a 3-pointer by Greg Freeman just 40 seconds after the intermission. But Juneau quickly regained the lead and never looked back.
"We simply had a bad game, and that happens," said Mackie, whose squad blew out Sitka-Chatham Electric 125-88 on Wednesday. "We never did get in sync. We didn't step up defensively, and we didn't capitalize on our free throws."
In the 11-point loss, Anchorage was a tepid 23 for 41 from the line. But it wasn't only the foul shots that wouldn't drop for the normally potent team. Outside shots clanged off the iron, inside shots swirled around and out, and the squad even came up short on a pair of second-half 3-on-2 breaks.
But the defending champion Arctic Lights know they are unlikely to see a repeat performance from Anchorage, should the two teams meet again in Saturday's championship game.
"They just missed a lot of shots," said Emile Sheppard, another individual standout for Marlintini's on Thursday. "I'd like to attribute that to our defense, but we beat them because they were off. They're not going to miss (their shots) like that again."
Sheppard was a one-man wrecking crew for Juneau on Thursday. He tossed in 21 points, including a pair of treys, blocked 10 shots and ripped down 17 rebounds to post a triple-double.
Juneau also got a first-half boost from Steve Brandner, who shook off illness and dropped in three treys and 14 of his 16 total points before the intermission.
Robert Casperson added 11 for the victorious Arctic Lights, who will face the winner of today's 8 p.m. Tacoma-Anchorage matchup in Saturday's 4 p.m. championship game. Tacoma eliminated Sitka with a 90-81 victory late Thursday night.
Freeman topped the Anchorage scoresheet with 18, all in the second half. Jon Madison chipped in with 16, and Chris Lewis added 12 for Northwest Strategies, which anticipates a championship-game rematch with Marlintini's.
"Juneau is a great team and they had a great game," Mackie said. "Had we been on our game, we can (play with) them. We expect to see them in the finals, and I look forward to playing them again."
Tacoma, Wash., 90, Sitka-Chatham Electric 81
Mike Parker scored 26 points late Thursday night as Tacoma eliminated Sitka-Chatham Electric from the tournament. Parker recently completed a season with Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
Devin Jones added 24 points and Ryan Broker, a 6-foot-10 former center at Lathrop High School and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, scored 22 points for Tacoma.
Robert Wheat added nine points for Tacoma, and his younger brother Ron was back in the lineup Thursday after being pulled off the bench during Wednesday's game by two Juneau Police officers.
Former Sitka High School player Mike Schneeberger scored 21 points to lead Sitka, which changed sponsors this year after competing in several Gold Medal tournaments as Sitka-American Legion.
Jason Schlein added 16 points, while Rich Krupa had 15, Robert Miller scored 14 and Mark Hayward added 10 for Sitka.
Mark Kelsey is a former Juneau Empire reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.