Against a top-seeded state powerhouse Barrow Whalers team on Thursday, the Nikiski boys did everything they could but failed to get what they wanted.
Friday against Delta Junction, the Nikiski boys did everything they could and got exactly what they wanted.
The Bulldogs notched a convincing 52-36 victory in the Class 3A state tournament consolation semifinals at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. The win means Nikiski will meet the Bethel Warriors in Saturday’s tournament fourth-place game at 9:40 a.m. at Service High. Nikiski played Bethel once this year, notching a 64-54 win at the Nikiski Tip-Off Tournament in mid-January.
In order to stay alive for another day, the Bulldogs had to win. That was apparent for the seniors on the team, who badly wanted victory so they could properly close out their prep hoops careers with a Saturday contest.
“This was really important for us, to get to Saturday,” said Nikiski senior Hunter Holloway. “Our main goal was to come together for our team, and we did that.”
Hot shooting from beyond the arc in the first half helped Nikiski in the second half, as the Huskies’ adjusted their focus to the perimeter, which only allowed Holloway and company to get better inside looks at the rim.
Holloway finished with 11 points, eight coming in the fourth quarter, on 5-for-7 shooting, and was perfect on all four buckets inside the arc.
Cade Anderson led the Bulldogs with 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point land while dishing out four assists. Nathan Carstens chipped in 10 points, six assists and eight boards. Overall, Nikiski’s seniors accounted for 46 of the team’s 52 points.
Using a play inspired by the national champion Kentucky Wildcats, the Bulldogs were able to draw Delta’s defenders outside on patient ballhandling to find space under the rim on numerous occasions. That combined with improved rebounding helped Nikiski use that style to outscore Delta 14-4 in the third quarter and blow open what had been a tight matchup.
“We looked at them before the game and saw they were smaller than Barrow and us, and we used that to our advantage,” Holloway said. “We just threw it to the big guys.”
Anderson warmed up with a pair of 3s late in the first quarter and early in the second, which combined with a triple from Holloway put the Bulldogs up 19-9 in the first half.
But Delta came back with a pair of drives to the rim by Micah Helkenn and a layup by Omar Powers that cut Nikiski’s lead to 21-19. By halftime, the Bulldogs led 23-22.
In the third quarter, Sam Tauriainen and Jace Kornstad knocked down a triple each to push Nikiski’s lead to 31-25 by the 4:10 mark of the quarter. From that point on, Nikiski’s inside game took over.
A post up shot by Luke Johnson put Nikiski’s lead at 37-26 after three quarters, and in the fourth period of play, Holloway got to work with three consecutive driving layups that left the Bulldogs leading 43-28 with 3:52 remaining.
“It was so much fun out there,” Holloway said.
Nikiski used a 7-0 run in the final minutes to clinch the victory. In the second half, Nikiski finished with a 61 percent shooting percentage, dwarfing the 17 percent by Delta and significantly higher than the 19 percent the Bulldogs shot Thursday in the second half against Barrow.
Bulldogs 52, Huskies 36
Delta 9 13 4 10 —36
Nikiski 13 10 14 15 —52
NIKISKI (52) — I. Johnson 0 0-0 0, Anderson 4 1-2 12, L. Johnson 3 0-0 6, Kornstad 2 0-0 6, Holloway 5 0-2 11, Handley 0 0-0 0, Tauriainen 1 0-0 3, Ellis 0 0-0 0, Carstens 5 0-0 10, Pamplin 2 0-0 4. Totals 22 1-4 52.
DELTA JUNCTION (36) — N. Helkenn 1 3-4 5, Blankenship 2 1-4 5, M. Helkenn 4 0-3 8, Maslovtsov 0 0-0 0, Rivera 0 0-0 0, Kravets 0 0-0 0, Powers 1 0-0 2, Gonzalez 4 3-4 12, LeGrande 1 0-0 2, Reiter 0 0-0 0, Kilimnik 0 2-2 2, Mock 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 9-17 36.
3-point goals — Nikiski 7 (Anderson 3, Kornstad 2, Holloway 1, Tauriainen 1); Delta 1 (Gonzalez).