MINNEAPOLIS - Great teams often rely on great players to get them through big games, and that's exactly what Minneota did on Thursday.
Junior Taylor Reiss put up 40 points in a 77-50 blowout over Browerville in the Class A state girls basketball quarterfinal at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
Even though the defending-champion Vikings are the No. 1 seed in the tournament and were favorites over the young Tigers, coach Chad Johnston knows how important the first game is. Before winning the title last year the Vikings made state appearances in 2011 and 2012 but went 0-1 both trips. They made sure that didn't happen this season.
Minneota’s Taylor Reiss attempts a shot against a Browerville defender during the quarterfinals of the Class A Girls Basketball State Tournament on Thursday at Mariucci Arena.
Photo by Stephen Wiblemo
Minneota’s Molly Hennen attempts a shot as Browerville defender Crystal Pearson looks on during the quarterfinal round of the Class A Girls Basketball State Tournament on Thursday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
"There are good teams at the state tournament for a reason. Browerville may have been the one that snuck in and people weren't expecting, but they were here for a reason representing their section," Johnston said. "The future looks bright for them, but our girls did a nice job of starting the game and setting the tempo early."
While Browerville's starting lineup consisted of only freshman and sophomores, the experienced Vikings took advantage of what they saw as the Tigers' main weaknesses - their lack of height inside and overall inexperience.
"Knowing they weren't very tall, our game plan was to try and get the ball in quickly," Reiss said. "If others were open, I would throw it back out, but if I am open we threw it in to me."
The Vikings went to their star offensive threat early and often as she scored their first 13 points to help build a 21-4 lead in the first seven minutes of the game. Reiss never slowed down, finishing the half with 22 points and ending the game with a double-double as she added a team-high 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
"We watched the tape from (Browerville's) section final, and I realized their post players weren't right up on here like I thought they would be," said Minneota forward Molly Hennen, who had nine assists. "I knew that she would be open more."
Scoring was only half of the reason for Minneota's big opening lead. Defense and rebounding were the other half. The Vikings used a three-quarter trap for the first half to put some pressure on the young Tigers and made sure they didn't get many open looks at the basket. Browerville only shot 28 percent from the floor in both halves.
"We came out and ran the three-quarter trap a little bit because we wanted to challenge their freshman and sophomores," Johnston said. "How were they going to handle it? I think that helped us because it kept them out of their element early."
"We knew they had good 3-point shooters and we had to try and keep a hand in their face at all times," Reiss said. "We couldn't just let them get open looks."
Hennen was also in charge of defending Browerville's star scorer, Crystal Pearson. Although she finished the game with 23 points, Hennen held her to eight in the first half to help Minneota build its lead.
"I knew (Pearson) was one of their best girls and I had to be on her," Hennen said. "I knew she was really physical and aggressive on the boards, so I had to box her up because she would be in there getting offensive and defensive rebounds. She likes to shoot, so I had to stay on her and not let her get that second opportunity."
Minneota dominated under the rim, too, as they beat the Tigers on the boards 52-30 including 16 offensive rebounds that led to 16 second-chance points.
It wasn't always comfortable for the Vikings, though.
After building its early lead, Minneota's press seemed to take a toll as its players began to get tired. The more tired they got, the sloppier their passes became, allowing Browerville to get some turnovers and build some momentum before the half.
Minneota led by as much as 18 at one point in the first half but Browerville gradually whittled that away and closed within nine with 16 minutes to play in the second half.
"We threw a couple lazy passes at half court that they stole and were able to cut our lead down to 13 by halftime," assistant coach Dale Kockelman said. "We found out at halftime that some of the girls were exhausted (from the press), so we should have gotten them out of there. We told them we had to match their intensity. We knew we gave them the momentum at the end of the first half."
Minneota switched to a half-court, man-to-man defense in the second half and was eventually able to slow the Tigers' tide and get things going back in its favor again.
Overall it was a great game for the Vikings' offense as it added 19 points off the bench and shot 48 percent as a team, but it was Reiss' big day that stoled the spotlight and ultimately is the reason why the Vikings will play Goodhue at 12 p.m. today at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
"We would like to not have to lean on her and have some balance so other teams have to sit and watch, and we did have some other girls come off the bench and do good things," Johnston said. "But, big players have to make big plays in the big games. We thought that would be an advantage and that they didn't have the girl necessarily to stop her. We went to it and we expected that out of her."
CLASS 3A BASKETBALL STATE TOURNAMENT
At Williams Arena, Minneapolis
MINNEOTA 77, BROWERVILLE 50
BROWERVILLE (23-6 OVERALL): Quinn Kircher 3-11 1-4 7, Paige Callahan 2-4 3-6 7, Kale Knutson 3-9 0-0 8, Crystal Pearson 5-10 13-18 23, Kendra Buchta 1-5 0-0 2, Katelyn Kellen 0-5 0-0 0, Katelyn Middendorf 1-4 0-0 3, MaKenna Hegseth 0-0 0-0 0, Morgan Thielen 0-1 0-0 0, Megan Carry 0-0 0-2 0, Candra Gould 0-1 0-0 0, Nicole Hinnekmap 0-0 0-0 0, Rakel Bryniarski 0-2 0-0 0, Clara Cline 0-1 0-0 0, Madison Keller 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 15-53 (28%) 17-30 (57%) 50.
MINNEOTA (31-1 OVERALL): Molly Hennen 3-4 0-0 7, Shelby Corbin 1-6 0-1 2, Emily Stienessen 4-13 0-0 9, Taylor Reiss 16-22 8-12 40, Payton Boerboom 0-3 0-0 0, Amber Engels 0-0 0-0 0, Kalley Kloos 0-0 0-0 0, Meghan Travis 0-1 0-0 0, Charlie Josephson 1-1 0-0 3, Kelsey Maeyaert 0-0 0-0 0, LeAnn Jerzak 2-5 0-0 5, Megan Larson 3-6 1-1 8, Michelle Jerzak 1-3 0-0 2, Megan Evers 0-0 1-2 1. TOTALS: 31-64 (48%) 10-16 (63%) 77.
HALFTIME: Minneota 35, Browerville 22. 3-POINT FIELD GOALS: Browerville 3-15 (Knutson 2-6, Middendorf 1-1, Kircher 0-4, Kellen 0-2, Thielen 0-1, Buchta 0-1); Minneota 5-18 (Hennen 1-2, Stienessen 1-6, Josephson 1-1, L. Jerzak 1-3, Larson 1-2). REBOUNDS: Browerville 30 (Callahan 6, Pearson 6); Minneota 52 (Reiss 11, Hennen 8, Corbin 6, Boerboom 6, L. Jerzak 6). TOTAL FOULS (FOULED OUT): Browerville 14 (none); Minneota 23 (Hennen). TECHNICAL FOULS: None. ASSISTS: Browerville 9 (Callahan 2, Pearson 2, Buchta 2); Minneota 26 (Hennen 9, Boerboom 5, Corbin 4, Larson 4). STEALS: 10 (Knutson 3); Minneota 8 (Hennen 2). BLOCKED SHOTS: Browerville 1 (Middendorf); Minneota 7 (Riess 4, Hennen 2). TURNOVERS: Browerville 14; Minneota 20.