Girls Basketball: Two down, one to gold
MINNEAPOLIS – Attack, attack, attack.
No matter the opponent, Goodhue wants to come at everyone as aggressively as possible.
In the Class 1A state quarterfinals, it was in an effort to slow down post players by flustering ball-handling guards. Then in the state semifinals Friday at Williams Arena, it was all for shutting down a near-record 3-point shooting squad.
“We tell them to always be attacking, always be on the defensive. We don't want to play passive,” said Wildcats head coach Josh Wieme. “They're always going, always going. And they have a tremendous work ethic. On the floor they're so willing and eager to work hard, they cover a lot of ground in a lot of minutes. That's been the identity of this team the last few years that we're always going, always attacking. And we don't stop.”
The Wildcats' non-stop baseline-to-baseline pressure paid off once again as second-seeded Goodhue is headed to the finals for the second straight year following a 70-48 victory against third-seeded Cromwell-Wright.
The Cardinals – who hit 327 total 3-pointers this season prior to Friday's game – opened the game with a 3-pointer from leading scorer Chelsea Swatek. But through a mixture of bad luck and the Wildcats' infuriating defense, C-W was 2 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half and 6 of 31 for the game.
“We just had to fly out on shooters, make sure we were there to block the shot or get a hand in their face,” said Goodhue guard Maddy Miller.
Although the Wildcats managed to slow down C-W's outside shots, they struggled to hit many of their own buckets. Providing a much-needed boost throughout the game was junior Emily Benrud, who capitalized on the glass with plenty of put backs and rebounds while tallying 15 points and 11 boards (six offensive).
“A lot of the rebounding came from a desire to want to get the ball,” Benrud said. “Just knowing that if we keep working super hard and being tenacious that we would be just fine.”
With a 26-19 halftime lead, the Wildcats opened the final 18 minutes on a 9-2 run to go ahead 35-21. Even better, Goodhue found its stroke, hitting 50 percent of its shots in the second half. Miller led all scorers with 21 points along with two steals while Sydney had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. McKenzie Ryan was 3-for-6 from 3-point range, finishing with 10 points.
And although TV timeouts helped the Cardinals keep their starters in as much as possible, the Wildcats' swarming defense was able to force 18 turnovers and get five steals.
“It was tough. I got tired. Thank God for those TV timeouts,” said C-W guard Teana Hakamaki. “They worked us and we kept up with them the best we could.”
Swatek added, “Usually we're the fast team. It was like a switch.”
Goodhue managed to go up as much as 23 with 5:55 to go after a Benrud bucket made it a 56-33 game. Whether they need to stop a team with a size advantage or a squad that goes bombs away from the outside, the Wildcats did their job. They shut the Cardinals down. Swatek led C-W with 13 points and 10 rebounds, followed by 12 points and five rebounds from Shaily Hakamaki.
“With the shots they did get off in the first half, they seemed rushed or they weren't balanced, because our kids were flying around the floor,” Wieme said. “Our kids did a great job of staying in their stances. They knew they had a lot of ground to cover around their arc. We had great ball pressure also, which made the passes tougher. They were zipping the ball around the arc like they were yesterday.”
With one final game to defend its state title from a year ago, Goodhue must knock off a team that walloped the Wildcats earlier this year in top-seeded Mountain Iron-Buhl. Back on Dec. 3 in Minnetonka, the Rangers hit 17 3-pointers and got Goodhue into running time for a 78-34 victory.
MIB advanced to the state final after a 79-65 win over fifth-seeded Maranatha Christian Academy on Friday. The Class 1A championship game is set for a noon start Saturday back at Williams Arena.
Goodhue knows the finals should be different compared to the fourth game of the regular season. But, it was around that time where the Wildcats got the necessary wake-up call.
“It focused us in right away,” Sydney said. “It made a lot of players realize they would have to have different roles this year. Tomorrow is going to be its own game.”
Wieme added, “I think that refocused us, all of us. It didn't happen all at once. You don't become a good team all at once. They saw how far we needed to go if we wanted to compete with the best there are in this class.”