The Service and Dimond boys basketball teams authored dramatic victories Friday at the Sullivan Arena in the Class 4A state tournament to advance to the state championship game.
Fifth-seeded Service upset top-seeded Wasilla 50-46, and the Lynx survived an 83-76 double-overtime thriller against defending state champion Bartlett.
That means that for the second straight season, two Cook Inlet Conference teams will play in the title game, set to tip off Saturday at 8 p.m. Bartlett defeated West in last year's finale.
Dimond, which is back in the title game for the first time since winning it all in 2009, beat Service in both previous meetings between the teams this season.
The Cougars, who finished third last season, haven't been in the championship game since they took the state title in 1991.
Dimond's battle with Bartlett seemed destined for overtime. The teams battled through 25 lead changes and 14 ties. The score was tied 32-32 at halftime and 57-57 at the end of regulation and 67-67 after one extra period.
Dimond's Colter Lasher put the game away with 10 of his 20 points in the second overtime, hitting all six of his free throws. The Dimond defense also stepped it up in the second overtime, holding Bartlett without a point for a span of nearly three minutes in the four-minute extra frame.
Regulation ended in wild fashion when Brock Crowe (15 points) dropped in a short floater with 14 seconds left to give the Lynx a 57-55 lead.
Bartlett's Treshawn King-Dunbar was fouled on a drive to the hoop with eight seconds remaining and swished his first free throw, but his second dramatically danced on the rim before eventually falling in. That forced the first overtime.
Dimond led 67-62 lead with 47 seconds to go in the first overtime, but a Jal Rial 3-pointer with 40 seconds left put Bartlett back within striking distance.
When Luke Adams missed two free throws on Dimond's next possession, the door was open for the Golden Bears. Rial missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer, but Iziah Sherman-Newsome was there to tip in the ball in with three seconds left and send the game to another overtime.
Dimond's Ryden Hines led all scorers with 22 points and Rial led Bartlett with 17.
In Friday's early semifinal, Service point guard Amu Aukusitino had extra motivation to perform well.
"I told myself I'm not settling for third place again," he said, referring to last season's finish at the state tournament.
Aukusitino scored 11 of his 15 points in the first quarter, hitting three 3-pointers that helped Service build a 20-9 lead.
"Amu is just a big-time player," Service coach Tyler Moor said. "He hit some unbelievable shots."
Wasilla clawed back into the game, and when Dillon Ferro scored a layup with less than three minutes remaining, he evened the score at 44-44.
Service's Adam Klie, who led all scorers with 16 points, put the Cougars back in front 46-44 with a surprisingly wide-open jumper at the top of the key.
"I'm thinking about how I got blocked the last couple of times down," Klie said. "I saw the opening and I had to take it."
Wasilla's Braydon Kuiper evened the score at 46-46 when he hit a jumper with 1:17 remaining, but Klie had a quick answer, scoring on a hard drive down the left lane to put Service back up 48-46.
Wasilla's 6-foot-10 center Connor Devine, who led the Warriors with 15 points, missed an attempt to tie the game again when a right-handed hook shot fell short on the front of the rim.
After Service corralled the rebound off Devine's missed shot, the Warriors had no choice but to foul and send Aukusitino to the foul line, where he calmly sank his only two free-throw attempts to score the game's final points and seal the win with 15.2 seconds left.
"We always thought we were going to win," Devine said. "It's a pretty disappointing loss. We let 'em score too much in the first quarter."
Moor said it was tough to watch Wasilla climb back in the game.
"I think all our guys were focused and Wasilla was too," Moor said. "We tried to pressure them, but it didn't affect them as much as I thought it would.
"It feels good to beat a good team."
Beating Wasilla required containing Devine, the Class 4A player of the year. Aukusitino said he couldn't really explain how the Cougars defended someone five inches taller than their tallest player.
"He's a really great player," Aukusitino said. "We just kept thinking we gotta play our ball."
Scoring against Devine wasn't easy either. At times, Aukusitino used masterful ball-handling skills to break free from his defender and drive to the hoop only to run into Devine in the paint and have to circle back out toward half court without attempting a shot.
Aukusitino, a junior who quarterbacked Service to a state football title last fall, said he has always wanted a basketball title as well, and can't decide which sport means more to him.
"My goal from when I was younger was to get two rings for basketball and two for football," he said.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News