BELGRADE — This weekend would mark the beginning of postseason action in girls basketball under normal circumstances.
These times aren’t normal, of course, as we’ve reached the midway point of the 2021 season. However, the cream has already risen to the top and separated from the rest of the pack. And on Saturday, two of those elite teams meet in arguably the best regular-season game of the year. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, ranked fourth in Class A, visits Minneota, the top-ranked program in the state.
The Vikings, deservedly, are the favorites in this non-conference matchup. The 2019 state champions enter Saturday with a 9-0 record and have won 70 of their 72 contests. They last dropped a home game on Dec. 19, 2017, when they fell to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 67-60. Minneota is unbeaten in its last 36 home contests.
Still, the Jaguars (9-0) will have a chance if their performances this year are any indication.
BBE is holding opponents to a Class-A-best 29.6 points per game and is second to only to Class AAA St. Paul Como Park (28.2) in that category across the state’s four classifications. Winning every game by at least 16 points, the Jags are second in Class A in point differential (36.9), trailing just third-ranked Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s (38.3).
Even last year is a strong indication that Minneota will be in for a tussle.
BBE nearly upset the top-ranked Vikings 45-44 during the Borch’s Holiday Classic on New Year’s Day 2020. The Jaguars, who entered that game with a 3-7 record, shot 57% from the field in the second half to wipe out a 28-21 halftime deficit.
“Even though we lost that game last year, it was really the turning point in our season and gave us a lot of confidence that we could compete with the best,” BBE head coach Kristina Anderson said. “I think the experience is helpful in the fact that Minneota has many returning players and they continue to play their style of basketball. So, we have a better understanding of that now and how we can compete against it.”
Allisa Knight scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds in that game. She and her teammates have geared up for this year’s affair following multiple practices this week.
“We know some things with what they do with their post, so we’ve been working on some things with that,” Knight said. “We’ve (been) watching film, just seeing all of what we can do against them and see if we can pull this game out with a big win.”
Leading her team to the state tournament last season, Knight has emerged as the BBE’s best player this year.
The senior forward averages 16.0 points per game and has been her team’s top scorer in six of nine games. She’s a difficult cover for any opponent thanks to her versatility.
“Allisa is a special basketball player with a lot of great tools,” Anderson said. “She is lanky, finishes well, boards hard, can run the floor and can finish off the dribble. And that combo becomes a very tough matchup for other teams. She is also a great presence to have in the paint defensively, as she is a great shot blocker.”
Knight will bring those skills to the next level next year. She is headed to Minnesota State-Moorhead on a Division II scholarship.
Knight, a 6-footer, says she would like to expand on those skills from now until then.
“I would definitely like to work on my mid-range (game) and keep going with my post (game),” Knight said. “I really need to get more post moves in and I need to get more strong; I’m not the tallest post in the world, so I need to learn to get a little bit stronger, but I really want to work on my mid-range.”
However, Knight still has some business to take care of this season with her BBE teammates, many of whom call her “Knightrider” or “Alleycat.”
The Jaguars aim for another state-tournament run under the direction of seven seniors, all of whom have been playing the game together since elementary school.
“The one thing that has been working well for us is obviously the communication and what we’ve been doing since fifth grader,” Knight said. “We all knew each other ... I think just the connections that we have has really got us somewhere.”