A fifth straight appearance at the big dance will once again yield no state crown for the Nikolaevsk girls basketball squad.
In a rematch with the Buckland Sissauni — the team that ousted Nikolaevsk from the first round two years ago — the Warriors were handed a 37-27 loss Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Class 1A March Madness tournament at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.
The loss dropped Nikolaevsk into the bottom half of the winner’s bracket, and the Warriors will face Yakutat today at 11:45 a.m. in the fourth-place semifinal.
Nikolaevsk coach Bea Klaich thought her team played well, as double figures in rebounding would indicate, but the Warriors simply could not buy a bucket. After suffering through 21 percent shooting in the first half, Nikolaevsk’s accuracy plunged in the second half, as the Warriors went 2 for 38, or 5 percent.
“Never in my coaching career have I seen such cold shooting,” Klaich said. “We had everything we wanted, we forced turnovers, our game plan worked, but why there was a lid on the basket, I don’t know.
“What more can you do?”
Senior guard Serafima Kalugin led Nikolaevsk with 12 points, 15 rebounds and five steals, while teammate Nadejda Gordeev brought down 10 boards as well. Vera Fefelov also scored nine points and challenged Buckland with a feisty defensive game.
The Sissauni had six players score, led by Mildred Barger and Sarah Washington with eight points apiece. Washington also grabbed 15 rebounds.
Prior to the temperature dropping at the rim, Nikolaevsk was having an easier time finding the net. A banked runner by Kalugin kick-started a 14-2 run that stretched between the first and second quarters. A triple by Fefelov left the Warriors leading 9-6 after one quarter, and the sophomore guard knocked down a pair of layups in the opening minute of the second to push the lead to 14-6.
A jump shot by Washington with 6:44 to go in the second quarter spurred a 15-5 run to end the first half. Taylene Jones found room on the outside and knocked down a 3-pointer on the next possession, and Buckland was off to the races. Consecutive layups by Rosaline Hadley late in the half helped Buckland take the lead back, and the Sissauni led 21-19 at halftime.
After the two sides combined to score nine total points in the third quarter, desperation began to creep into Nikolaevsk’s game, and the fouls increased. Nadejda Gordeev hit one of two free throws with 5:05 left in the game to cut Buckland’s lead to 28-25, but consecutive layups on the other end extended the lead back to seven points.
A trey by Nita Thomas with 3:45 to go pushed the lead to 35-27 and really forced Nikolaevsk’s hand, and as the two teams battled hard for loose balls, several players from both teams came up limping.
Concerning the rough play in the final minutes, Klaich shrugged it off as typical intensity in the final moments of game action.
“My girls felt like they were getting beat up on their shots, but it was the same for everybody,” Klaich said.
A number of long range shots by the Warriors in the final minute fell by the wayside, sealing the win for the Sissauni.
After Buckland toppled a strong Nikolaevsk squad 43-42 on the opening day of the 2014 tournament, the Warriors were looking for redemption on Thursday. Instead, they were greeted by the same old demons.
“I think they’ve gotten in my girls heads,” Klaich said. “They’re tough, they never give up, and we had trouble in the second half.”
Five straight years of being denied a coveted state championship will also wear on a team, but Klaich was quick to point out the positives in the situation.
“I told them it’s a privilege to be here, and there are other teams out there that haven’t gotten the same opportunity,” she said.
Ninilchik girls 42, Huslia 24
The Ninilchik girls used a third quarter surge to keep their season alive for one more day Thursday night in the Class 1A consolation bracket.
After an opening day loss — a 34-32 heartbreaker to Aniak — the Wolverines were placed into the tournament consolation bracket, with a championship contest set for Saturday.
With outgoing seniors Krista Sinclair, Jordan Finney and Alanna Goins potentially playing their final game of their high school careers, Ninilchik coach Rod Van Saun said it the win was important to give the trio one last shot at hoops glory.
“I told Krista before the game that I didn’t want to see them play their last game tonight,” Van Saun said. “They needed this. It was an emotional loss last night.”
Sinclair suffered a poor shooting night but grabbed seven rebounds and had five steals. Goins had six points and Finney chipped in six points and six boards.
Freshman DeeAnn White led the Wolverines with 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting from inside the arc, and brought down eight boards as well.
The Wolverines weren’t doing a lot of smiling early on, but the mood shifted dramatically in short order.
After going down 10-4 after one quarter of play, Ninilchik began to crash the boards better and outscored Huslia 11-2 in the second frame, leading to a 15-12 lead at halftime.
Ninilchik scored in spurts as it put together a 19-0 run to begin the third quarter, which was part of a larger 30-4 run in the second and third quarters. After struggling with 23 percent shooting in the first half, the Wolverines dramatically improved in the final 16 minutes with a 55 percent clip, hitting 10 of 18 shots.
“Our press started working better, and DeeAnn was able to get inside,” Van Saun said. “When the ball starts going in, things work well.”
White notched nine points in the third quarter to lead the charge, starting with a long trey from the top of the arc to push the lead to eight points. A layup, two free throws and another layup in transition kept the wheels turning for Ninilchik, which opened up a 34-14 lead by the end of the third quarter. A baseline jumper by Huslia’s Corrina Sam with seven seconds left in the frame ruined a perfect defensive effort by Ninilchik.
Ninilchik used a strong ballhandling game in the fourth quarter to drain the clock and preserve the win.
Van Saun said the goal the rest of the way is to win out.
“This may not be for the state title, but this is like our NIT tournament,” he said. “The most important thing is to play hard, smile and have fun.”
Sissauni 37, Warriors 27
Nikolaevsk 9 10 3 5 —37
Buckland 6 15 6 10 —27
NIKOLAEVSK (27) — Klaich 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Mametieff 0 0-0 0, Fefelov 3 2-3 9, Kalugin 4 4-6 12, Gordeev 0 1-2 1, Hickman 2 1-4 5. Totals 9 8-15 27.
BUCKLAND (37) — Melton 1 1-2 4, Barger 4 0-0 8, Jones 2 0-0 5, Washington 2 4-4 8, Thomas 0 0-1 0, Hadley 3 0-2 6, Melton 0 0-0 0, Hadley 0 0-0 0, Kirk 2 1-3 6. Totals 14 6-12 37.
3-point goals — Nikolaevsk 1 (V. Fefelov); Buckland 3 (Melton, Kirk, Jones).
Team fouls — Nikolaevsk 11; Buckland 13. Fouled out — Melton.
Wolverines 42, Huslers 24
Ninilchik 4 11 19 8 —42
Huslia 10 2 2 10 —24
NINILCHIK (42) — Delgado 3 0-2 6, Appelhanz 0 0-0 0, Sinclair 1 2-2 4, Goins 2 2-4 6, White 7 5-10 20, Finney 2 2-2 6, Clark 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 11-20 42.
HUSLIA (24) — K. Sam 2 1-2 5, C. Sam 1 0-0 2, Penn 0 0-0 0, N. Sam 1 0-0 2, Attla 3 0-0 7, N. Sam 0 0-0 0, Agnes 1 0-0 2, Huntington 2 0-0 6, I. Sam 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 1-4 24.
3-point goals — Ninilchik 1 (White); Huslia 3 (Huntington 2, Attla 1).
Team fouls — Ninilchik 10; Huslia 17. Fouled out — N. Sam, N. Sam.