Hopkins plays Elk River on Saturday night
The dream matchup is set for the state Class 4A girls basketball championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Williams Arena.
Hopkins (31-0) and Elk River (31-0) will play for the title in a rare battle of undefeated squads.
Both teams had to fight hard to earn their berths in the finals with close games Thursday, March 16, at Williams Arena. Hopkins held off Eastview’s charge to win 64-59 in the first semifinal, and then Elk River downed Lakeville North 57-56 in the second semifinal.
Hopkins led most of the way against Eastview, but the Lightning struck late in the game with some timely three-point shooting. Royal captain Dee Dee Winston iced the game with four late free throws when Eastview was forced to foul in attempts to stop the clock.
While Eastview made eight three-pointers in the game, Hopkins countered with a 31-point barrage from its ninth-grade “Super Girl,” Paige Bueckers.
It was the second 31-point game in a row for Bueckers, who also had six rebounds, three assists and three steals while hitting 12 of 16 shots from the field.
Bueckers, Winston, Angie Hammond and Raena Suggs played all 36 minutes for Hopkins, and the other starter, Dlayla Chakolis, played 33 minutes.
Eastview point guard Allie Pickrain also went the distance, while teammates Rachel Ranke, Macy Guebert and Megan Walstad each played 32 or more minutes.
Winston’s final two free throws gave Hopkins a 64-59 lead with 7.2 seconds remaining in a hectic second half. Eastview missed a three-pointer at the end of the game and the margin stood at five points as the final buzzer sounded.
“Eastview did a nice job of changing up the defense in the second half,” said Hopkins head coach Brian Cosgriff. “This is the time of year when all we worry about is survive and advance. It doesn’t matter if we win by one point or 30.”
Bueckers explained how Hopkins was able to win against a quality opponent.
“We had good ball movement, and we were able to attack the gaps,” she said.
“We felt pressure,” said Winston, “but we know how to take on pressure.”
This is Winston’s fourth state tournament, and she is the only senior in Hopkins’ starting lineup. She missed the opening game of the tournament against Minnetonka because she was ill with a fever.
The fever broke, and she was cleared to play in the all-important game against Eastview.
Winston finished with 11 points against Eastview, while Suggs had 16 points along with five rebounds and five assists.
Not all of Hopkins’ key stats showed up in the scoring column.
“Their No. 33 [Chakolis] was 0-for-4 from the field, but she came up with the three biggest rebounds of the game,” said Eastview head coach Molly Kasper. “Our girls never quit, never folded. We don’t think we’re ever out of a game because we are capable of scoring points in bunches.”
Ranke led the Lightning with 19 points, while Pickrain made four three-pointers to finish with 15 points. Walstad added 10.
The Elk River-Lakeville North game was just as exciting as the Hopkins-Eastview game.
Ava Kramer of the Elks scored the eventual game-winning basket with 56 seconds remaining in the second half. Lakeville North appeared to hit the go-ahead basket with four seconds remaining, but there was a timeout called prior to the shot. The Panthers had another late shot that fell short of the mark.
Gabi Haack of the Elks led all scorers with 20 points. Caitlyn Peterson scored 16 for Lakeville North and teammate Temi Carda added 12.
Contact John Sherman at [email protected]