If the regular season is any indication, there shouldn't be any gimmies once the Region III/4A boys tournament starts today in Palmer.
"I don't think this year anybody's going to be able to get a game where they can just save energy," said Wasilla boys coach Chuck Martin, whose team finished 7-3 in the region to earn the Northern Division's No. 2 seed.
"We're going to find out what teams are tournament-ready. Everyone on the boys side is going to have to play every day."
Wasilla is one of the eight teams that will play Thursday through Saturday for the three trips to state up for grabs.
The region has three teams ranked in the latest prep poll. Wasilla leads the pack at No. 5, while Colony is No. 6 and Kodiak is No. 9.
But it probably doesn't pay to even pencil those teams in for state yet.
Of the four first-round matchups, the only one where a regular-season game was decided by more than 12 points is Homer and Kodiak.
The Bears walloped the Mariners by scores of 78-59 and 76-45 on Kodiak Island in late February.
"I think the Kodiak-Homer game will be a good one once they get on a neutral court," said Martin, whose team lost to Homer 55-51 this year.
As usual, Colony comes into the tournament as the team on everybody's hit list. The only team to defeat the Knights in the region tournament since 1993 is Palmer. The Moose wore the Region III/4A crown in 1995.
The Knights, at 8-2, posted the best record in the region to earn the Northern Division's No. 1 seed.
However, Colony only defeated first-round opponent Kenai by 12. Also on the Knights' side of the bracket is Kodiak, a team that Colony split two close games with this year.
Martin, whose team is 14-4 against Class 4A competition with three losses coming in the region, said the tight competition is not a result of the region's best teams having a down year. It is a result of all of the teams raising their caliber of play.
"I think we really have three state class teams in the region in Colony, Kodiak and Wasilla," he said. "Those teams have shown they can play with anybody in the state.
"But we also have a bunch of teams that can step up and beat those top three."
The following is a closer look at the first-round games for the peninsula teams.
Colony vs. Kenai
The Knights and Kardinals met once this season, with Colony posting a 68-56 victory over host Kenai on Feb. 26.
The game followed an old pattern for the Kardinals, which finished 1-9 in the Southern Division to earn its No. 4 seed. Kenai was competitive, but could not make the plays it needed to win the game.
Senior Mike Johnson and junior Cole Magner gave the Kardinals problems all evening as Johnson dumped in 21 points and Magner burned Kenai for 23.
"It was a relatively close game," said Kenai coach Rich Bartolowits. "We were in it until the final quarter.
"It was only 12 points. That's one basket a quarter if you're shooting 3s."
Speaking of treys, Kenai has been getting consistent production beyond the arc from Kyle Oldring, who had 18 points and three trifectas in the loss to Colony.
Kenai also can get scoring from Marcus Webster, Joel Reemtsma and Willie Castillo. Bartolowits also said Castillo and Josh Overturf will be key defensively.
The team's theme is one Bartolowits took from his friend, successful Ninilchik girls coach Dan Leman.
"At his first state tournament, a reporter asked him how he felt about the tournament," Bartolowits said. "He told that reporter the same thing I'll tell you, 'We didn't come here to lose.'
"And I'll add to that, 'We came here to play basketball.'"
Kodiak vs. Homer
The Bears have deep talent that poses all kinds of problems, starting with 6-10 senior Nick Billings. In Kodiak's 78-59 victory over Homer, Billings dropped in 20 points.
After Billings, the Bears have a balanced attack. In that same victory, Kodiak also received double-digit efforts from Thomas Kreta (12 points), Geoffrey Agmata (11 points) and Godfrey Agmata (10 points).
The Mariners have some big bodies that can counter Billings, starting with 6-4 senior Richie Crum. In the 78-59 loss, Crum had 12 points for the Mariners while 6-2 senior Sean Haynes poured in 23.
Wasilla vs. Skyview
A slow start in the second half cost the Panthers an upset of the Warriors in their only meeting this season. Wasilla used a 10-2 run to start the second half and ended up with a 49-39 victory at Skyview.
"It was nice to be able to play with them like that," said Skyview coach Erling Hofseth, whose team finished 2-8 in Region III to earn the Southern Division's No. 3 seed. "I know they were on the road and we were in our own gym, but it was still exciting."
Martin agreed that the game would have the Panthers confident as they prepare to face his Warriors.
"They were in the game with three minutes to go," he said. "That's big for them coming into this game. They'll have confidence knowing they can stay with us."
Dan Davis, Skyview's 6-foot-3 post player, scored 21 of the Panthers' 39 points in the game. However, Wasilla's post players also did a fair amount of damage, with forward Nick Buzby netting 18 and center Morgan Leeds dumping in 15.
"We're going to have to be a lot more productive on the offensive end," Hofseth said. "I think we had a lot of good shots, we just didn't hit them all. We can't have two or three players playing well. We need all five guys on the floor to show up to have a chance."
Palmer vs. Soldotna
The two teams faced each other once this season, with the Stars scoring a 66-64 victory over the Moose in late February.
Soldotna, which at 6-4 in the region is the Southern Division's No. 1 seed, grabbed a 20-11 lead after the first quarter. Palmer gradually crept back into the game, and it took a 3-pointer by Nick Christensen with one second left to win the game.
Today's game, at 7:45 p.m., will be the featured contest and will be on Palmer's home floor. However, Stars coach Ron Becker is less worried about those factors than the ones he can control.
"I just think when you play in a region tournament, it really doesn't matter who you play," he said. "You're going to be playing a game that requires you play the very best you can.
"If you're not playing your best, you're probably not going to win."
Becker's record in region tournaments has shown it pays to keep things so simple.
In the 1995-96 season, the Stars entered the tournament at 3-7 in Region III/4A only to upset Homer in the semifinals of the region tournament to earn a state berth.
The following season, Soldotna entered the tournament with an ordinary 5-5 region record, yet finished second at the region tournament and fourth at state.
If Soldotna hopes to repeat such performances, it will have to avoid the streaky offense which has plagued it this year.
"The key is whether we're going to move the ball with penetration and passing, or whether we're just going to dribble around on the outside of their defense," Becker said. "We get in trouble when we have four guys standing around watching one guy dribble around the defense."
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