Lady Whalers net another third-place finish
ANCHORAGE - When the Nikiski Lady Bulldogs knocked down a three-point shot from the win early in the fourth quarter on Saturday morning, almost everyone in the Alaska Airlines Center caught their breath. Could Nikiski end the Lady Whalers' run of top three finishes at the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Class 3A State Basketball Championships at four with a come-from behind win?
However, just as quickly as Avery Kornstad had breathed life into the Lady Bulldogs' hopes, Milya Wright and Felila Tua'i slammed the door shut.
Wright and Tua'i combined for seven points in the final 5:17 of play and sparked a dominating 11-3 run that cinched the Lady Whalers a third-place finish with a thrilling 45-34 victory.
With the win, Barrow finished the 2016-17 season with a sparkling 19-6 record.
After Kornstad had pulled the Lady Bulldogs to within 34-31, Wright helped take the wind out of the NHS sails. She upped Barrow's lead to five with 5:17 to play by pushing back an offensive rebound. Moments later, after Nikiski had managed to fight its way back to within 36-33, Tua'i all but sealed the win. The senior forward reeled off three straight points via a free throw and, seconds later, an offensive board to stretch the BHS lead to six, at 39-33.
From there, the Lady Whalers' third third-place finish in the past four seasons was secure. The Lady Whalers won the Class 3A state title a year ago.
Rebecca Gerke added to Barrow's domination in the final 5:17. Playing in place of injured guard Kuutuuq Danner, she stole the ball in the backcourt and raced the length of the court for a basket, and an 8-point lead. Sara Wolgemuth finished off the BHS win less than 2 minutes later with a free throw.
Nikiski, which had advanced to the state tournament by finishing second in the Southcentral Conference race, managed to hold its own against Barrow early on. Both teams fought their way to a 17-17 deadlock at the half.
"We were down a little bit to start. It took us a little while to get going," said Barrow head coach Chad Bunselmeier. "We finished strong and we are just happy to get a win at the end of the season."
The Lady Whalers managed to get into their offensive game in the third. Barrow outscored Nikiski by a 15-11 clip in the first 8 minutes of the second half and built a 32-28 lead.
The team's Player of the Game recipient, Wright starred for the Lady Whalers. She finished with a double-double, netting 24 points and 12 rebounds. She also collected five steals. Seniors Rose Mongoyak and Alaina Wolgemuth also played well. Mongoyak finished with six points, while Wolgemuth scratched out two points and a team-high six steals and two assists.
Much of Barrow's slow start against Niksiki may have stemmed from a stunning 53-50 loss to Anchorage Christian in the semifinals on Friday evening. The loss to ACS ended Barrow's quest to play in the state finals for the second straight season.
ACS outscored Barrow by a 34-25 clip in the second half to net the come-from-behind decision.
"We played really aggressive defense, but we weren't really used to the ticky-tack fouls being called," said Bunselmeier. "We had three of our six girls with three fouls at the half and that hurt us. (After the fouls), the girls kind of changed how aggressive we were being defensively, and ACS just took advantage of that."
Barrow, sparked by a 12-point spree in the first 8 minutes built a 25-19 lead at the end of the first half.
A flurry of first-half fouls forced Barrow to alter its game.
Wright and Wolgemuth paced the BHS offensive attack against ACS. Wright poured in a team-high 12, while Wolgemuth chipped in 11. Mongoyak added nine points, while Danner tallied eight points and nine rebounds before being forced from the game in the final minutes due to a nagging ankle injury.
Crystalynn Tua'i also did well, finishing with nine points.
Spurred by its win over Barrow, ACS won the Class 3A state title on Saturday with a 52-40 decision over Sitka.
The Lady Whalers opened the tournament on a high note on Thursday by claiming a hard-fought 50-41 decision over Western Conference rival Bethel Regional High School in the first round.
The Lady Whalers, who raced to a quick 10-0 lead early on, used an 11-0 run over the final 2:26 of the third quarter and the first 1:06 of the fourth to break open the game.
Mongoyak paced the Lady Whalers in the win by notching a double-double. She posted 13 points and 11 boards. Wright and Wolgemuth added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Bethel rallied back from its opening loss to Barrow and finished fourth overall. They defeated Grace Christian, 36-35, in the consolation finals on Saturday morning in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Wells Fargo Sports Complex.