Weekend hoops preview: Crosstown rivalry ends regular season play

This weekend Juneau-Douglas High School’s boys and girls basketball teams will defend their home court against Thunder Mountain High School to end the regular season. The girls will play at 6:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday night, while the boys games will follow at 8 p.m. both nights.


JDHS girls vs. TMHS

The JDHS girls have played Thunder Mountain three times this year, twice at JDHS and once at the Thunderdome. Each match between the two teams this year has been contentious, and even though JDHS has come out on top in all three games, each one was decided by three points or less.

Thunder Mountain has played some of its best basketball against JDHS, but it hasn’t translated to wins. The Falcons haven’t stopped improving and recently two TMHS freshmen have added another dimension to their team. Freshman guard Cyrene Uddipa and freshman post Nina Fenumiai’s excellent play has Falcons coach Tanya Nizich excited; the pair could throw a wrinkle in JDHS’ push for the season sweep.

“When everybody is just focussed on (senior captain Ava Tompkins), you definitely need somebody else to step up and be a threat of some sort, whether it’s ball handling or scoring, and Cyrene has done that,” Nizich said. “She’s had no trouble lately with pressure, and on the flip side her defense has been outstanding, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage this weekend.”

On Fenumiai, Nizich said: “She is a big presence on the court. Everybody sees her, hears her, talks about her. … She needs to understand that she is capable of pretty much whatever … in each particular game. She jokes around sometimes and says, ‘Hey coach, I’m gonna score 15 tonight.’ … Then she goes out and scores 15.”

JDHS girls coach Lesslie Knight knows what it takes to beat TMHS, but isn’t taking anything for granted this weekend.

“We are aware of what Thunder Mountain has, but we need to work on our skills, playing our game,” Knight said. “Our focus will be what it has been, to improve our turnovers and free throws.”

This weekend’s pair of games marks the last games in Juneau for both teams before the Southeast Conference Tournament in Sitka held March 8-12. Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain will likely land second and third seeds and face each other for the opening match on Tuesday.


JDHS boys vs. TMHS

On the boys side, Juneau-Douglas High School is riding high, while Thunder Mountain High School will look to get their first win against the Crimson Bears this season. The two teams have met twice this year at TMHS, with JDHS coming out on top 66-47 and 64-51.

JDHS (17-4) is having one of their best seasons in recent memory, and at the close of the regular season is playing their best basketball. The Crimson Bears play Thunder Mountain (5-14) in their next three games, twice this weekend and in their Southeast Conference Tournament opener on Tuesday.

Though the Falcons haven’t enjoyed JDHS’ success in the win column, coach John Blasco is up for the challenge.

“We’re gonna compete as hard as we possibly can to win any game we play in, and any win, regular season or tournament, could help us get to the next level,” Blasco said. “This weekend’s games will determine how we line up against them, and any changes we need to make in the 48 hours until we play them again. … We know they’re a talented team, and they have some height that makes them very tough to play against.”

Juneau-Douglas is now considered the best team in the state, according to the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches poll. The Crimson Bears’ bigs — junior Bryce Swofford, senior Hunter Hickok and sophomore Erik Kelly — have improved their play recently, and coach Robert Casperson thinks this may be the school’s best team in a decade. JDHS’ size could be the deciding factor in this weekend’s games.

“The development of our interior game has come on pretty strong in the last three, four weeks,” Casperson said. “That’s what people comment to me most about: ‘Look at what Bryce is doing, look at Erik Kelly.’ They’re impressed by Hunter Hickok now, and that kid, bless his heart, has come to us from football … (and) is working hard and willing to learn.”

On JDHS’ steady rise to the top of the polls, Casperson said he wants his team to be number one when the state tournament ends.

“Being number one right now has never been a part of our end game; we want to be number one in the next few weeks,” he said. “We know there are a lot of strong teams around the state this year and we are thankful to be considered in that group.”