One of the most intriguing tournaments in Alaska high school basketball kicks off today as teams representing Region II, District 3/2A converge on Lumen Christi, a small Catholic school in Anchorage, to battle it out for the right to go to the state tournament.
Many things make the tournament interesting, from the up-tempo style that most of the teams play to the diversity of the district. In addition to the host Archangels, teams come from Bristol Bay, Unalaska, Seldovia, Nikolaevsk, Homer Christian, Ninilchik and Cook Inlet Academy.
Two other things stick out about the tournament. First, competition in the district, from top to bottom, is as tough as it gets. There's no easy games anywhere in the bracket.
The second is the format of the brackets themselves. The four-day tournament is double-elimination all the way through. While the championship game is played Friday night, the loser of that game isn't guaranteed the second of the district's two state tournament berths. Instead, the losing team has to come back Saturday and face the top team from the consolation bracket for second place and a trip to state.
"It really does add an element of excitement that some of the regions don't have," said Ninilchik girls coach Dan Leman. "If you stumble in one of the games, you have a chance to fight your way back."
On the girls side, Leman's Wolverines have won 11 straight district titles to go with four straight state championships, but Leman isn't taking any opponent lightly.
"We definitely don't try to look past anybody," Leman said. "We've played (No. 4 seed) Cook Inlet enough -- if they get hot, anything can happen with them. (No. 3) Unalaska is one you have to be careful, they've got some strong shooters, and when we played (No. 7) Seldovia earlier this year, it was tied at halftime. Bristol Bay is a real strong team, so there's definitely some good teams right here at home in our region."
Rounding out the girls bracket is No. 5 Nikolaevsk and No. 6 Lumen Christi.
On the boys side, games will be just as competitive, if not more so. Lumen Christi has the top seed, beating Cook Inlet in overtime during the regular season, but several teams from the region, including the Archangels, the Eagles, Bristol Bay, Nikolaevsk and Ninilchik, have been received votes in the Alaska sportswriters prep poll during the course of the season, and Lumen Christi and Cook Inlet have both spent time at No. 1.
As the No. 2 seed, Cook Inlet could get a rematch with Lumen Christi in the title game -- provided both teams get that far. Bristol Bay is the No. 3 seed, Nikolaevsk earned the No. 4 seed and Unalaska is seeded fifth. Ninilchik enters the tournament as the No. 6 seed, Homer Christian is No. 7 and Seldovia is eighth.
"Last time we played Seldovia, it was an eight-point game," said Cook Inlet coach Max Vavilov after the Eagles beat the Sea Otters by 25 last weekend. "Usually, they give us a game. Anybody can come out and play a great game on any given night.
"The important thing is to maintain a high level of basketball so it doesn't matter who you play because you're always playing at the top of your game."
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