The Ketchikan girls basketball team lost its second straight game to Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé on Saturday and had their lowest scoring output of the season.
And yet, in a season filled with superlative efforts that have led to dramatic victories, the Lady Kings may have displayed their best all-around hustle and determination in the 36-30 loss to the Crimson Bears.
Playing without their only senior, Lindsay Byron, who broke her hand during Friday’s 40-33 loss, the young Lady Kings (7-3 overall, 1-3 Southeast) were relentless from the tip-off, but couldn’t quite score enough to upset the veteran Crimson Bears (7-2, 2-0).
“At the beginning of the shootaround (Saturday morning) when we found out we were not going to have Lindsay, I asked the girls to be able to look in the mirror and answer three challenges. I wanted them to play as hard as they could. I wanted them to be good teammates. And I wanted them to have fun,” Ketchikan coach Kelly Smith said. “I think they covered all three of those pretty well.”
Byron has been virtually the lone scoring threat in the paint for Kayhi, as well as the top rebounder and shot-blocker. Kayhi had had difficulty matching up with Juneau’s size even with Byron in the lineup. Without her, the Lady Kings seemed like they would have no answer for Juneau’s size. The Crimson Bears had at least a 2-inch advantage at every position on the court with forwards Mila Hargrave, a 6-1 junior, and Ashley Laudert, a 6-2 senior, towering above their Kayhi counterparts.
“It was a little different matchup for us, having them matching up all guards against our post players,” Juneau coach Tanya Nizich said.
The Lady Kings brought 5-2 sophomore Lilli Goodwin out for the opening tip-off against Laudert. Giving up a full foot, the tip-off appeared to be done just for laughs, but after Juneau won the tip into the backcourt, Ketchikan immediately went to an aggressive double-team of the ballhandler. Goodwin picked up a foul, but it was an quick showing of how Kayhi was going to play the rest of the game.
“We put Lilli out there and everybody was giggling, thinking ‘Is this a joke?’” Smith said. “But we had a designed trap out of it. We got the trap, got called for a foul, but I think that set the tone of aggression that we needed. That is one thing we are, aggressive.”
Juneau has six seniors on the varsity roster, including starters Laudert and guards Skylar Tuckwood and Kiyara Miller. The Crimson Bears knew they were in a battle from the opening moments of the game as the Kayhi defense buzzed around.
“It always seems like whichever team comes out with the most intensity, they are always going to give the other team issues,” Nizich said. “Give props to (Ketchikan), they came out hard.”
Juneau built a six-point lead in the second quarter, only to have the Lady Kings fight back to enter halftime down 13-11.
In the second half, Juneau pushed the advantage back out to six points a handful of different times and were up 25-17 after a pair of free throws by Hargrave, but Kayhi battled back again. A 3-point play by sophomore Shyla Abajian off a driving layup cut the lead to 28 with 2:25 to play and another drive down the lane for a basket by Abajian again made it a one-point game, 31-30 with just 76 seconds left in the game.
A travel call on Bree Johnson, that Smith protested, cost the Lady Kings a chance to take the lead in the final minute and Juneau put the game away behind a great high-low interior pass from Laudert to Hargrave, an offensive rebound and layup by Mariah Schauwecker, and a free throw from Tuckwood.
“There were a couple of situations where I looked up and we were down seven and I was thinking I’d be thankful if we just kept it under 15,” Smith said. “Then, all of a sudden, we were just down one with the ball. I though we really competed. At times I thought that Juneau looked like they were going to pull away, but the kids just wouldn’t quit fighting. I was so proud of them.”
After struggling against the Kayhi pressure much of the game, Juneau guards Tuckwood, Miller and freshman Gwen Nizich were strong with the ball in the closing minute as the Crimson Bears pulled out a 36-30 win.
“Late in the game, our guards took care of the ball, getting it across halfcourt,” Nizich said. “Our posts, Mila and Ashley, did a tremendous job, just looking and recognizing each other for the high post and low post. It is tremendous to have ballhandlers that your teammates trust, that you know if the ball gets into their hands it should be OK .... should be. We did have to call a couple timeouts. I told them just to settle down and be calm and confident. We are always going to see pressure in every game, so it is important that we still run and execute the things we practice every day.”
The Lady Kings took an early 4-2 lead after a pair of drives by Abajian, holding the Crimson Bears to two points through the first six minutes of game time.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Tuckwood and Miller gave Juneau an 8-4 lead at the end of the first quarter and a steal and layup from Schauwecker pushed the lead to 10-4 and it looked like the Lady Kings just wouldn’t have enough offense to keep up with Juneau, despite the defensive effort.
The defense continued to slow Juneau down, however, as the Lady Kings dove to create tie-ups, battled to get rebounds against the taller Crimson Bears, and were just plain pesky in every way possible. Five points from Bree Johnson and another bucket from Abajian brought the Kings within 13-11 at the half.
Juneau again appeared to be putting the game out of reach in the third quarter before Abajian and Johnson led the Lady Kings’ charge in the fourth quarter aided by the defensive pressure put on by teammates Karli Klinger, Kali MacManus, Lilli Goodwin and Kylie Brendible.
The Lady Kings were only 4 of 12 from the free-throw line and missed a number of open looks at 3-point baskets as the offense continued to be a bit of a struggle. The defense remained relentless.
Johnson only finished with six points as she had an off-night shooting the ball from the field and the free-throw line, but the Lady Kings would not have been competitive with the Crimson Bears without the Herculean effort that their junior star gave. Johnson consistently brought the ball up court against extreme pressure and set up the Lady Kings offense, often pointing out directions to her teammates. Normally a perimeter defender, she also found herself having to defend in the paint against the Juneau bigs.
“I thought Bree was great,” Smith said. “She gets a little frustrated when her shot isn’t falling, but it is hard to shoot when you don’t have any legs because you are playing 90 feet of the floor, bringing the ball up while being guarded, and then playing their posts in the paint. I thought she got her teammates the ball in the right spots, and she handled the ball well. I’m really proud of Bree.”
Part of Byron’s absence was alleviated by the continued improvement of Abajian as an additional offensive and defensive force.
Abajian finished with a team-high 16 points, adding a 3-pointer basket to compliment her big drives to the basket. Even more impressive than her scoring might have been her defensive effort.
“She’s a warrior,” Smith said. “She guards the biggest players, the fastest players, the best shooters. She just defends so hard. And now she is getting the confidence to attack the basket and finish. She has improved so much this year.”
The Lady Kings held their own on the boards against the Crimson Bears, not with size, but just with sheer effort.
“We had to have five people crashing the boards,” Smith said. “It would look like one of their bigs would have a board, but someone would come flying in and knock it out, and somebody else would dive on the floor and get the ball.”
Kayhi freshman Klinger also made life hard on Juneau’s point guard, Skylar Tuckwood. The Lady Kings did a remarkably good job of staying out of foul trouble despite the aggressive effort. Kayhi was whistled for just five fouls in the first half before picking up 10 in the second half.
“The kids are fast,” Smith said. “They recover and get back into position so they don’t have to foul. Klinger is so good at getting guards to have to change direction. She’s better at it than anybody I’ve ever had as a freshman. She guarded Skyler, and made her work for everything she did all weekend.”
Byron will get her hand looked at again later this week after the swelling goes down. According to various medical sites, a broken hand generally takes three to six weeks to heal. The Region V tournament in Juneau is March 8-11 — seven weeks away.
“She is going to be out a little while,” Smith said. “We will know more on Wednesday, but we are prepared to play without her for awhile. If we get her back for regions, we’ll be happy, anything before then would just be icing. It would be great to have her out there for senior night (Feb. 11) because she has meant so much for this program for four years, but that seems a little optimistic.”
The Lady Kings have a weekend off before heading up to Anchorage for four games. Kayhi plays at South Anchorage on Feb. 1, then opens play in the Dimond Lady Lynx Tournament against Wasilla on Feb. 2.
Juneau JV 54, Kayhi JV 32
Brenda Williams-See scored 15 points to lead three Juneau players in double figures as the Crimson Bears junior varsity beat Kayhi 54-32 on Saturday.
Chloe Casperson added 13 points, and Bella Reyes-Boyer scored 12 for Juneau. Williams-See and Reyes-Boyer combined for five 3-point baskets.
Lauren Tucker led Ketchikan with 10 points, hitting 6 of 10 free throws. Azriah McGarrigan added nine points.
Kayhi C 35, Juneau C 28
The Kayhi C team outscored Juneau 20-12 in the second half to earn a 35-28 victory.
Nina Zapanta led Kayhi with 10 points. Payton Hagen added eight and Lillian Fawcett finished with six.
Juneau was led by seven points from Williams-See. Jordan Bennett added six points.
Juneau JV 42, Kayhi JV 36
Juneau-Douglas outscored Kayhi 12-2 in the fourth quarter to earn a 42-36 junior varsity win.
Kayhi trailed 17-9 after the first quarter of play, but had fought back to take a 34-30 lead after three quarters before behind held to a single basket in the fourth.
Brenda Williams-Cee led Juneau with 11 points. Tatum Billings and Chloe Casperson each scored nine.
Lauren Tucker paced Kayhi with 15 points, including hitting 9 of 11 free throws. Ketchikan scored 15 of its points from the free-throw line. Aspen Bauer finished with eight points, and Bella Whisenant scored six.
Juneau C 35, Kayhi C 25
Juneau-Douglas overcame a 14-3 deficit after the first quarter of play to earn a 35-25 win over the Kayhi C team.
Brenda Williams-Cee scored 11 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, to lead Juneau. Allison Jack added nine points.
Addisen Zink led Kayhi with eight points. Nina Zapanta finished with six.