The temptation is to say Danny Wells carried Noorvik into the Class 1A state championship boys basketball game, and the numbers back up such a claim.
Wells racked up 37 points and 11 rebounds and unleashed a 19-point fourth quarter that buried Lumen Christi 61-49 in Tuesday’s late semifinal game at Sullivan Arena.
“He’s a phenomenal shooter, and he’s really smart,” Noorvik coach Darren Zibell said. “He’s got the ability to take over. He’s got that drive and that instinct. He knows when it’s time to go to work.”
But behind every senior star, or at least behind this one, are underclassmen also making contributions. In Monday’s opening-round win over New Stuyokuk, it was freshman Quincy Willamson putting up a double-double. In Tuesday’s win over Lumen Christian, it was sophomore Gene Sampson hitting three big 3-pointers, helping to set the stage for Wells’ big finish.
Sampson, a left-handed guard, drained his shots in the third quarter, when the game was close. His first one gave the Bears a 26-23 lead. His second gave them a 29-27 lead. His third gave them a 39-31 lead.
“That really sparked us,” Zibell said. “He got everything going for us in the third quarter.”
And in the fourth quarter, it was all Wells.
A 5-foot-11 senior who said he comes from a family of shooters, Wells swished NBA 3-pointers, drove through traffic for tough baskets and turned steals into easy layups. He scored all but three of Noorvik’s 22 points in the fourth quarter — and the 19 points isn’t even an eight-minute career-high. He scored 25 points in a quarter last season.
“I know whatever I put up is gonna go in — that’s how I play the game, that’s my mind-set,” Wells said.
Wells and the Bears are back in the championship game for the second straight year and will meet Klawock for the title at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
There are a couple of key differences this time for Noorvik. Last season, the Bears won the Class 2A title. This year, they are playing at the 1A level. And last season, the Bears were a senior-dominated team that started four seniors and Wells. Now they have more freshmen, four, than anything else.
Lumen Christi, a private school in Anchorage, starts three seniors and appeared to be taking over the game in the second quarter. Down by five, the Archangels went on a 12-2 run that gave them a 21-16 lead midway through the second quarter, with eight of the points coming from the foul line, including five by 6-3 Hugh Sturgulewski.
But Wells got Noorvik going by scoring the quarter’s final two baskets — a running 3-pointer and a one-handed jumper -- to forge a 21-21 halftime tie.
Sturgulewski (11 points, 9 rebounds), 5-11 Michael Stoll (9 points, 10 rebounds) and 6-1 John Paul Moran (10 points, 7 rebounds) helped Lumen Christi to a slight advantage on the boards, but the smaller Noorvik squad frequently got three or four shots per possession.
“We’ve been the smaller team all year,” Wells said. “It’s lots of hard work, and our assistant coach gets real physical with us in practice.”
Klawock 62,King Cove 37
For four years in a row, Klawock’s junior high boys basketball team has reigned as the best in the region, meaning that for almost as many years, the expectation has been that the high school team should rule too. Except it hasn’t.
“They were upset last year in the region tournament so they haven’t proven a thing yet,” co-coach Jim Holien said. “There’s all this talk.
“We’ve got something to prove.”
The Chieftains looked like a team on a mission Tuesday while administering a 62-37 beating to King Cove to advance to Wednesday’s championship game against Noorvik.
After a rocky first quarter that left them down by a point, the Chieftains limited King Cove to four points in the second quarter to grab a 33-17 halftime lead.
Three players finished in double figures for Klawock, with Sam Rew leading the way with 19. Tyrus Morgan racked up a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds and Matthew Peters chipped in 12 points, half of them from 3-point range.
Josh Mack and Paul Hamilton each scored a dozen points for King Cove, which was pressured into 17 turnovers and lost the rebounding battle 40-35.
The Chieftains scored the final basket of the game by running a play to isolate their only senior, Daniel Kennedy, who plays sparingly and didn’t enter the game until the final minute or two.
Kennedy is a heavyweight on the Klawock wrestling team who decided to try basketball in his final year of school. His teammates ran four straight plays to set him up, and the guys on the court and the ones on the bench erupted in cheers when Kennedy finally connected with five seconds remaining.
“It’s a great boost for them,” Holien said. And it says a lot about the kind of team the Chieftains have become, he and co-coach Doug Edenshaw said. Most of the players have been playing together for several years, but sometimes they were more focused on individual efforts than team efforts.
Losing the conference tournament last year, when expectations were great, helped change that.
“It motivated them,” Holien said. “They understood they had to come together as a team.”