Heading into their 2022-23 regular season finale on Friday night, the Dimond High girls basketball team faced a daunting task against a familiar foe.
They hosted red-hot West Anchorage, a team they hadn’t beaten in two years, for a Cook Inlet Conference showdown.
The Lynx recovered from a bumpy start and were able to finally defeat the Eagles, 58-50, for the first time since Feb. 9, 2021, when senior Kali Hibbert was a sophomore on varsity.
After Friday’s game, she described what it meant to emerge victorious over that particular opponent in the last home game of her high school career.
“We knew we wanted to win,” Hibbert said. “We were tired of them winning all the time. I think we wanted it more than they did.”
West came into the teams’ second matchup of the year riding an impressive 16-game winning streak, the second longest at the 4A level behind only Anchorage Christian School. The last meeting between rivals Dimond and West resulted in Dimond losing on the road by nearly 20 points on Feb. 17, which was their only conference loss of the season.
With Friday’s win, the Lynx not only snapped the Eagles’ win streak — and their own five-game losing streak to West — they also extended their own winning streak to six straight.
The game marked West’s first loss this season to a conference opponent, and in the state of Alaska altogether. All three of their previous defeats came in out-of-state tournaments.
“The girls have really been focused as we’ve been going through our practices to finish the regular season strong so we can go into regions on a high note,” Dimond coach Charles McCubrey said.
Junior Maile Wilcox was just a freshman the last time Dimond bested West. On Friday night, she accounted for half of her team’s points with a game-high 24 points.
“Everything felt good,” she said. “I felt confident going in and I knew I had to step up for my team tonight.”
She was a near-unstoppable force every time she decided to drive into the paint for a layup or pull up for mid-range jumper. All but her final two points came on field goals from inside the arc, with the last buckets coming via a pair of free throws after getting fouled in the final minute of the game.
“We were able to use her and attack the way they were playing defense,” McCubrey said. “She’s one heck of a basketball player, and we’re so glad she wears a Dimond uniform.”
The game started off as a back-and-forth battle until the Eagles went on a 9-0 run to close out the first period and take a 19-10 lead heading into the second.
It briefly looked like West was poised to run away with a win, but instead of letting their foes continue to build off that momentum, Dimond came roaring back and took over the game.
“We just kept our composure, didn’t get all riled up, we knew our game, and we know how to play under pressure,” Hibbert said.
The Lynx opened the second period with a 9-0 run of their own to tie the game at 19-19 before the Eagles called a timeout to gather themselves.
“The girls showed a lot of composure,” McCubrey said. “We haven’t had a lot of close games this year, so for them to be able to accept (West’s) best hit, absorb it and give them one back feels really good.”
Dimond didn’t let up after that and kept the pressure on the rest of the way, outscoring West in each of the final three periods after recovering from a rough end to the opening period.
“We just knew we had to keep the intensity up because basketball is a four-quarter game, not a one-quarter game,” Wilcox said. “We knew we had to push it and bring it to them the whole game.”
They led 30-26 at halftime and went on a 5-0 run to open the third and further extend their lead. Wilcox was equally as effective on offense in both halves, scoring 12 points in each.
Hibbert finished second on the team in scoring with 15 points, all of which came after the first period. Nine of those points came on a trio of timely 3-pointers that helped the Lynx build and keep momentum.
“We’ve been working on how to utilize all of our players to the best we can,” McCubrey said. “Going against a team that is so good like West, it’s nice to be able to distribute the ball and not just ride on one person’s shoulders.”
The team fed off the crowd’s energy and a lively atmosphere spurred on by a larger turnout than Hibbert said they’re accustomed to.
“We don’t always have a bunch of supporters because it’s girls basketball, but to have that many people supporting us felt really good,” she said.
West was led in scoring by sophomore Tonya Karpow, who recorded the second-highest point total of the game with 16.
Dimond and West have been the two of the best teams in conference and in the state all season. Each has only a handful of losses, and has ranked in the top five of the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches’ power rankings for most, if not all, of the season.
After notching such a vindicating win over the Eagles, the Lynx are glad to close out the regular season on a high note and will head into regions next week surging and full of confidence.
“To be able come in and take care of business against another top team feels really good,” McCubrey said. “Now we’re just getting ready to lock in.”