Complete Cards win section semifinal
BUFFALO — Head coach Dustin Carlson called it one of his Willmar girls basketball team's most complete games of the year, and it came at the perfect time.
Hannah Johnson and Cayle Hovland both scored 18 points and the top-seeded Cardinals swarmed fifth-seeded Becker on defense for a 60-48 win in a Section 5AAA semifinal on Saturday at Buffalo High School.
Willmar will play in its third consecutive section final on Thursday against Zimmerman in a rematch of last season's title game win for the Cardinals.
"To get to the section final three years in a row, that means a lot," Carlson said. "This is a special group of girls."
Coming into Saturday's contest, Willmar knew that Becker would live and die from the 3-point line. The Bulldogs, who put up 31 triples in a December meeting between the teams won by the Cardinals, hoisted that same number of shots from beyond the arc once again.
Making just 1 of its first 13 attempts in the first half and seven for the entire game, Becker stood little chance of pulling off the upset.
"We're willing to go into the game letting them live and die out there," Carlson said. "I think we did a good job closing out and making their looks a lot harder, but it's still up to them whether or not they make or miss it. Luckily enough didn't go in today."
Willmar's performance was almost everything its coach could have wanted. Almost.
In addition to a strong defensive outing, the Cardinals held a lead as big as 21 points with five minutes to play, thanks to 8-for-18 3-point shooting and a plus-20 rebounding margin. The only glaring number was the 27 turnovers.
"I thought we were just really uncharacteristic against the press," Carlson said. "Becker's got such quick guards and they make it tough, but we made it tougher on ourselves with silly decisions that we don't usually make. Other than that, it was a complete game."
The Cardinals took advantage of a rough first half offensively from the Bulldogs, entering the half with a 26-13 lead. In the two matchups between the teams this year, Becker scored just 25 first-half points.
"I thought we played fantastic defense," Carlson said. "I was a bit nervous before the game because they're such a good team with the way they can shoot. Luckily we came out hard and were able to build a nice lead."
Hovland, a Ms. Basketball candidate, saved one of her best games of the year for Saturday, going 3-for-4 from 3-point range and pulling down 11 rebounds for a double-double.
Abby Berskow also hit three triples and added 13 points.
"I thought Hannah (Johnson) and Abby really stepped up for us, with HJ attacking the basket and Abby shooting it," Carlson said. "You kind of know every game that Cayle's going to give you good scoring, that's the way she is. To have the other girls step up was big."
Out of halftime, the Cardinals immediately jumped on the Bulldogs as Jordyn Swoboda and Hovland hit triples to extend the lead to 18 points.
When Becker cut the lead to 36-25 with 13:40 to play thanks to its full-court pressure, the Willmar defense responded, holding the Bulldogs without a field goal until 5:35 remained.
That 8:05 drought allowed the Cardinals to pull away for a 48-27 lead.
The Bulldogs finally began to find their groove from the perimeter in the final minutes, cutting the lead to nine points with two minutes to play. Becker had a chance to pull within seven points at the 1:57 mark, but missed a pair of free throws.
After that, a Johnson layup and Berskow free throws put the game away for good.
Willmar 60, Becker 48
Becker (15-13) 13 35 — 48
Willmar (24-2) 26 34 — 60
BECKER - Scoring: Julia Bengston 13, Alayna Lindquist 5, Courtney Nuest 17, Haley Benda 3, Renee Tripp 4, Adeline Kent 4, Madi Kerzman 2 ... 3-point shots: Bengston 2, Lindquist 1, Nuest 4 ... Rebound leader: NA ... Assist leader: NA ... Steal leader: NA
WILLMAR - Scoring: Abby Berskow 13, Katelyn Murphy 4, Caitlin Ogdahl 2, Jordyn Swobda 3, Hannah Johnson 18, Cayle Hovland 18, Carly Wedel 2 ... 3-point shots: Berskow 3, Murphy 1, Swoboda 1, Hovland 3 ... Rebound leader: Wedel 13, Hovland 11, Johnson 7 ... Assist leader: Johnson 5 ... Steal leader: Johnson 4