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Called in as an injury replacement, Greg Freeman was just what United of Anchorage needed.
Freeman canned 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while teammate Chris Hamey had a game-high 28 points and seven rebounds to lead United to a 104-96 victory over defending Gold Medal A Bracket champion Tenakee Tribe in Friday night's losers' bracket final at Juneau-Douglas High School.
The victory sends United into tonight's 6 p.m. A Bracket championship game against Marlintini's Arctic Lights of Juneau.
"Greg gave us a new energy," Hamey said. "He's a great athlete."
Tonight's championship pairing between the Arctic Lights and United is going to be an exciting rematch of Thursday's meeting, with one small twist.
Or rather, quite a sizeable twist -- that twist taking place in the soft tissue of United star forward Jon Madison's aching ankle.
Madison went down with a sprained ankle while scoring 19 points in United's 90-86 opening-round win over the Tenakee Tribe on Wednesday and was lost for the tournament. After falling to the Arctic Lights in Thursday's second round, 106-103, United's need for a replacement became painfully evident. That's when United summoned teammate Greg Freeman in Anchorage.
"I got here as soon as I could," Freeman said Friday night, about five hours after arriving in town. "I'm still a little sluggish."
But it was Tenakee Tribe that was left feeling worse for wear.
Between the performances of Freeman and Hamey, plus that of teammate Matt Carle (20 points, four rebounds), United was too much for Tenakee to handle.
In the first half, that United trio teamed up to can a searing-hot 15 of its 24 shots from the field (65 percent) -- including eight of 12 from 3-point range. Yet it took Carle's trey at the halftime buzzer before United could wrestle away a slim 55-53 lead.
Just as in the first meeting between these two teams, the pesky Tribe hung tough.
"They never went away, they never quit," Hamey said. "They have some great athletes."
Indeed, the Tribe matched United punch-for-punch early on.
Guard James Wilson (17 points, eight rebounds) attacked the basket with the same aggressive manner that he did when he and his fellow Crimson Bears won back-to-back state high school championships in 1997-98. His current backcourt-mate, lightning-quick former University of Alaska Fairbanks guard Anthony Porter (14 points), was also a thorn in United's side.
Add in post Brandon Bieber's five-of-six effort from the field in the first half and this one had all the makings of a semifinals thriller.
United, however, wasn't into any such dramatics. United went on a 10-3 run to open the second half and Tenakee, though it cut the lead to five points on a couple of ocassions, never seriously threatened to regain the lead. Tenakee's Travis Young did his best to keep his squad close, scoring 13 of his 17 points in the second half while displaying lots of hustle and hard-nosed play.
Tenakee got into foul trouble in the homestretch, partially due to its tired legs -- the Tribe suited just seven players for the game.
"They just played really well, they shot the ball well," Bieber said of the Anchorage team. "They've played together for awhile and we just got together on Wednesday."
United finished the game hitting 31 of 69 from the field and a red-hot 15 of 27 from 3-point range. Tenakee was hot, too, canning 37 of its 79 field-goal attempts (nine of 26 from 3-point range).
"Our guys showed a lot of heart," said Bieber, who led his squad in both scoring (23) and rebounds (13). United's Shaun O'Shea led all rebounders with 15. Overall, United held a 42-37 edge on the glass.
Bieber, who played college ball at UAF, said despite the frustrating loss, he found his first Gold Medal Tournament lots of fun.
"This is what it's all about," he said, nodding toward the Native dancers who were performing before the B Bracket semifinals got under way Friday night. "The culture and the history ... fans turn out and are all fired up. I'm glad I had the opportunity to come."
And for United, it gets another opportunity to knock off the Arctic Lights in tonight's finale.
"I think we'll match up well with Freeman," said Anchorage coach Jerry Mackie. "He'll help us a lot, especially defensively. I think I'll put him on Nico (Harrison). Then maybe Nico won't have the 46 he scored against us (Thursday).".
"They're deep and they're quick, they really push the ball," Hamey said of the Arctic Lights. "I don't think we can trade baskets with them."
Hamey said the inconsistent play that his team suffered in its first two games -- including the 106-103 loss to the Arctic Lights on Thursday -- won't do tonight.
"We're gonna have to put two halves together," Hamey said.
Mike Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.