Youth and a little bit of experience won out over old age and treachery as Huna ANB earned a spot in Saturday's championship game of the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament's Mighty B Bracket. Huna advanced with an 89-62 victory over Juneau's Reliable Transfer on Thursday night at Juneau-Douglas High School.
Huna's oldest player is 30 years old, while Reliable's average age is 41, so Huna tried to pick up the tempo. Reliable was able to hang with Huna for the first 11 minutes of the game, taking a 14-13 lead, but then Huna went on an 8-0 run and never looked back.
Huna led by 14 at halftime, 41-27, and the margin never went below 12 points in the second half; it stayed at least 20 points for the last 11 minutes of the game.
"We had to wear them down," Huna's Johan Hinchman said. "We couldn't lose to them."
"Our guys were a little younger than they were, but they're a good team," said Huna's Nate Strong, who led all scorers with 37 points. "I have a lot of respect for them. Some of their guys have been playing together for 30, 35 years."
Knowing about the age difference, and having seen Strong score more than 45 points in each of his first two games, Reliable was looking to slow the game down and control the tempo. That worked for the early part of the game, but Huna hit a couple of 3-pointers and made a couple of steals to start its running game.
"It looked like they were getting tired," Huna's Kamal Lindoff said. "Usually when we're all on fire, we start running. Nate was getting guys involved and Travis (Dybdahl) picked things up after struggling his first couple of games. He (Dybdahl) sprained his ankle in our last game, but he looked pretty good."
Even though Huna picked up the tempo, the Reliable players said their biggest problems were self-induced.
"We just didn't play our offense," Reliable's Chris LaVallee said. "We usually have a good motion offense, but we had a lot of people bunching up today and we were never really in synch. I think the two days off might have hurt us and playing again tomorrow will help us get back in synch. We were going to go in to slow them down."
"We were playing well in the first 15 minutes, but we kind of lost it after that," Reliable's Andy Lee said. "The teams that win this thing - Haines and Huna - if you look at them they all play defense. They were scoring their points, but they were getting stops, too. I'm not used to scoring three points in a game, but I wasn't getting any shots."
As Huna started to pick up the tempo, Reliable began to wear down. Even though most of the Reliable players are older than all of the Huna players, the Huna players have all been on the same team for several years while most of the Reliable guys play for different teams in Juneau's Ordway League. LaVallee said this was his fourth Gold Medal team in 10-11 years and Lee has been on five or six himself.
"They played well, they play together all the time," Reliable's Kevin Casperson said. "They sub well, they're well-coached and they hold onto the ball. I have to give them a lot of kudos."
Besides the 37 points and 18 rebounds from Strong, Huna picked up 14 points and eight boards from Dybdahl. Lindoff scored nine points, while Hinchman added seven.
Casperson and Craig Kahklen scored 11 points apiece to lead Reliable, while Joe Pelayo and LaVallee both scored nine. LaVallee also had a dozen rebounds, with eight offensive boards.
Huna will take today off, while Reliable plays the Haines Merchants at 6 p.m. tonight for the right to play Huna in Saturday night's 8 p.m. championship game.
"I think we have a good shot tomorrow," LaVallee said. "We've played three top teams and we play another one tomorrow."
"Either one, whatever," Strong said when asked if he had a preference of teams to play in the final. Huna beat Haines 110-105 on Sunday night in a game Huna led 75-50 at one point only to be tied with a couple of minutes left. Haines won the three titles before Huna took last year's crown.
"I think we'll be playing Haines," Huna's Andy Gray said. "We have to defend that title."
Haines Merchants 98, Klawock-Prince of Wales 65
Andrew Friske scored 20 points as the Haines Merchants eliminated last year's Mighty B Bracket runners-up from Klawock-Prince of Wales in a losers' bracket game Tuesday afternoon. Klawock was the team that eliminated Haines from last year's tournament, ending the Merchants' streak of Mighty B Bracket titles at three (1999-2001).
Ben Egolf added 17 points for the Merchants, while Jason Shull had 14 points and Stuart DeWitt scored 11. Every player on the Haines roster scored at least three points in the game and the Merchants had a chance to crack the century mark, except Brian Friske missed a pair of free throws with 6.9 seconds left.
Dave Nix scored 13 points to lead Klawock, which finished fourth in the bracket. T.J. Young added 11 points, while Devin Edenshaw had nine points and George Huffine chipped in eight. Every Klawock player scored at least two points in the game.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.