Defense and rebounding have been the key to victory all season for the Klawock boys basketball team and in Wednesday's Class 1A state title game against Noorvik, the Chieftains put on a clinic in both.
Klawock held Noorvik to 27 percent shooting at Sullivan Arena and exploited a distinct size advantage in the paint to earn a 55-43 victory and claim the school's second state title.
"Usually, in state, we're a lot bigger than everybody else," said 6-foot-3 Klawock junior Tyrus Morgan, who paired 20 points with 19 rebounds for the game's only double-double. "That's usually our game plan for the whole year, to get (the ball) inside."
The bulk of his shots coming from close range, Morgan made 9 of 16 field goals to help the Chieftains shoot 48 percent, his prowess on the boards contributing to a 45-23 rebounding edge. There were plenty of rebounding opportunities early, with Noorvik hitting just 18 percent of its field goals in the first half.
"We couldn't buy a bucket if we were Donald Trump, I mean it was pretty pitiful," Noorvik coach Darren Zibell said. "We had some quality looks we just missed. They're a match-up nightmare for us and they did a good job defensively."
Klawock's primary mission was to slow prolific Noorvik scorer Danny Wells, a senior with shooting range that stretches to near halfcourt.
"We knew he'd make some shots," Klawock coach Jim Holien said. "We just wanted to make sure the shots he took were tough, they were contested."
Wells finished with a game-high 25 points, but only made 1 of 11 first-half shots as Klawock rolled to a 31-15 halftime lead.
Klawock junior Sam Rew, who was named player of the game after scoring 17 points, was given the unenviable task of guarding Wells.
"That was my main goal of the game, deny him, get in his head, get on him, show him I'm there." Rew said.
Rew also scored some key buckets, including back-to-back 3-pointers to close the first half. When he drained the second with four seconds remaining before intermission, he gave an emphatic fist pump on his way to the other end of the court.
"I'm on fire, that's how I felt," Rew said.
Wells started catching fire for Noorvik early in the fourth quarter, scoring nine unanswered points to cut Klawock's lead to 41-32 with six minutes to play. Klawock stuck to its game plan, however, pounding the paint and holding a double-digit lead for the last five minutes. Wells and the rest of the Bears continued to hoist deep 3-pointers down the stretch and didn't feel they were out of the game until inside the final minute, Wells said.
"We came back from big games this year in less time, so I believed we could do it," Wells said. "They had a really tough team. They had a bigger team, they were quick and they were ready for us."
Wells, who finished this season with 920 points according to Zibell, helped Noorvik claim a Class 2A title last season. As tough as it was to lose this year, he felt fortunate to play in two straight state title games. Noorvik's roster includes five freshmen, two of which are starters, forcing the young team to progress rapidly throughout the season.
"Day one, we couldn't even throw a three-man weave, it was that bad," Wells said.
Klawock is no stranger to championship games, having finished runner-up in the Class 2A state tournament in 2010 and 2011, the Chieftains' only previous state title coming in 1985. This season's championship team only has one senior on the roster, so the Chieftains will be sure to set their sights on a title defense.
"This group of kids, they are such characters behind the scenes," Holien said. "They're a great group of kids, they give you everything they got, they listen well and they do exactly what you ask."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.