Juneau’s girls basketball teams are on a collision course in Anchorage after both teams staved off elimination in the state tournament.
Both the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé and Thunder Mountain High School girls prevailed Friday in consolation bracket games the Alaska School Activities Association March Madness 2023 State Championship games. They’ll now play at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
The teams have already seen plenty of each other this season, facing off four times during the regular season and twice during the Region V 4A Tournament earlier this month. All the games were tightly contested, but all were won by Thunder Mountain — sometimes in dramatic fashion.
TMHS coach Andy Lee told the Empire that the presence of both Juneau team’s spoke to the quality of basketball in the capital city, and predicted both teams would play with maximum effort on Saturday.
“The best team tomorrow is going to win, not the best team in the first seven or eight games, the best team tomorrow,” Lee said. “It’s a new day. We’re going to show up.”
Both teams tipped off their games around 12:30 p.m. Friday with sixth-seeded JDHS taking on seventh-seeded Lathrop High School and fourth-seeded TMHS playing eighth-seeded Dimond High School.
The Crimson Bears’ victory was hard-fought but rarely in question. They jumped out to a 5-point first quarter lead and never looked back, building and maintaining a lead that hovered around 10 points for the duration of the contest.
JDHS coach Tanya Nizich said the contribution of scoring from the entire team helped the Bears wire-to-wire win.
“I absolutely love that we are being aggressive and attacking the basket, Kiyara (Miller), Gwen (Nizich), Mariah (Schauwecker), and Chloe (Casperson) are doing a great job with that,” Nizich said. “Tatum Billings came off the bench and sparked us with a 3-pointer. The best thing about our team is that we are all capable of putting points on the board. Ashley Laudert and Mila Hargrave pulled down some big boards for us, as well. They created a lot of deflections for us by playing with their hands up and being big on defense. Lathrop collapsed on them, which left our guards open to take more outside shots.”
At times, Lathrop nipped at JDHS’ heels, but there was always a Skylar Tuckwood bucket, Mila Hargrave putback or Miller 3-pointer to reassert a double-digit advantage.
Tuckwood said the consistency is what made the difference on both ends of the court.
“I thought our team did a really good job all around (defense and offense) and played hard the whole game,” Tuckwood said.
Miller added: “I think the key to winning today was our high intensity starting off the game and our rebounding.”
Still, Lathrop refused to go quietly, and continued to play hard, defend tenaciously and hoist shots late in the fourth quarter.
However, a clutch steal from Tuckwood and dagger free throws from Izzy Waters and Miller cemented the 51-42 win for JDHS in the game’s waning seconds.
Hargrave was named player of the game for JDHS while Tuckwood led in scoring with 20 points.
Waters, a senior, said she was proud of her team as well as herself for capitalizing on more scoring opportunities and being overall more aggressive throughout.
“While our shooting from the outside was on, it was truly our rebounds today that got us going and helped tremendously on not only offensively, but defensively as well,” Waters said.
TMHS’ victory against eighth-seeded Dimond High School was more dramatic and fueled by a second half surge. The Lady Falcons had entered the second half trailing 28-23, but started the third quarter with a 9-0 run that vaulted them past eight-seeded Dimond High School on the scoreboard and ultimately to a 53-47 win.
The Lady Falcons were led in scoring by sophomore Cailynn Baxter’s 17 points. Sophomore Kerra Baxter added 13 and senior Kiara Endicott added 9 points, including a 3-pointer near the end of the third that gave TMHS a 5-point advantage entering the final period of play. Lee said strong bench play from reserves Jenna Dobson and Addison Wilson allowed TMHS to keep the Baxters and junior Ashlyn Gates, whose interior presence was pivotal in the win, relatively rested down the stretch to seal the win.
“I thought we got tremendous minutes from players nine and 10,” Lee said.
Cailynn Baxter was named player of the game for TMHS.
The bounce-back wins come after respective tough losses in games that were up for grabs until their final seconds. On Wednesday, TMHS fell 54-50 thanks to a late rally from West Anchorage High School.
“Every step forward for the program, even the loss the other night as disappointing as it was, was a step forward for us,” Lee said pointing out the team at one point held a 14-point advantage on one of the state’s biggest stages against a good basketball team. “It’s a resilience test.”
That same day, JDHS was unable to complete a comeback bid against Colony High School in a 53-46 loss.
Saturday’s all-Juneau game will be played at the University of Alaska Anchorage Sports Complex, and will decide who places fourth and who places sixth in the 4A girls tournament.
ASAA March Madness games are available to stream at: https://www.nfhsnetwork.com/. Coverage of the game will appear online at juneauempire.com and in print in the Tuesday edition of the Empire.
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at email@example.com. Ben Hohenstatt contributed reporting to this article.