Playoff mode: Juanita girls power past Redmond for district playoff berth

BELLEVUE — The Juanita High girls basketball team shifted into playoff gear on Thursday evening.

Senior guard Tea Adams scored 28 points and sophomore post Alexis Intong added 14 as the Rebels beat Redmond, 56-42, in the third-place game of the Class 3A KingCo Conference tournament at Newport High School. The Rebels are now just two wins away from the state tournament, as a third-place finish qualified Juanita for the Sea-King District tournament.

But Juanita (15-9) hasn’t been without its list of issues over the last several weeks. The Rebels lost a close game to Bellevue in the final regular-season road game, then dropped a seeding game to Redmond on Feb. 1. Several days later, in the conference semifinals, Juanita struggled to slow Mercer Island defensively and lost, 71-51.

The loss in the seeding game against Redmond was especially frustrating as Juanita had beaten Redmond by double digits just a few weeks earlier.

“I think we were a little bit too comfortable, and the stakes weren’t as high,” Adams said. “Sadly, that shouldn’t mean we would play any less, but we did.”

The response has been to move for a shift in mindset. The Rebels have implemented little tweaks — like running on and off the court and better communication between players — to help shake themselves into posteason mode.

The Rebels went on a 17-0 run in the first and second quarters to take a 20-8 lead and Redmond (13-10) never really recovered.

“When we get up that high, our key thing is to say that we’re only up by two or down by two, so we always play like we’re losing,” Adams said. “I think that’s a big key, and that helped us a lot. We let them go on a bit of a run, like six or seven points, and that’s when we started to get nervous — even though we were up by that much. We were just pretending we were down by two the entire time.”

Juanita also welcomed the return of junior forward Hannah Kleppe, who sustained a concussion during the loss to Redmond on Feb. 1 and missed three games. Kleppe finished with only two points, but was a factor as a rebounder and on the defensive end of the floor.

The Rebels are still without senior Brittany White, lost for the season after fracturing her arm against Lake Washington on Jan. 25, and were already young before losing one of two seniors on the squad. Sophomore Jayla Kidd and junior Taylor Bryne have seen extended minutes in Whites’ absence, as has junior post Tara Rouholfada. Juanita was a team, coming into the year, attempting to answer the question of who would support Adams offensively.

The answer may be on the other end of the floor.

“Our biggest motto is that, when any of us make a mistake on offense, make it up on defense,” Kleppe said. “I think that really drove every teammate, not just the starters, to play their best. I think it was a well-rounded game from everyone.”

Byrne finished with six points and Kidd had four. Brandi White added two points on an off-shooting night.

Teagyn Ohrt led Redmond with 21 points, including four 3-pointers. Kiki Milloy had 15 points.

The Juanita girls now move on to the Sea-King — or WIAA District 2 — tournament. The Rebels are scheduled to play Cleveland at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 at Cleveland High School in Seattle.

The loser of Saturday’s game is knocked from the tournament, while the winner enters an eight-team bracket fighting for one of seven berths in the regional crossover games.

Juanita hasn’t made the state tournament bracket since 1986, the last time the Rebels won a girls’ basketball state championship. The last regionals appearance was a 57-55 loss to Prairie in 2015.