Minnesota State H.S. Tourney Notes

Remember Blake Hoffarber's shot from his butt on Target Center's floor in the 2006 Minnesota State Basketball Tournament?

Moments like that ensure lifelong memories (and ESPYs), and now, a new crop of high school kids has the chance to make their own from March 26-29. This year, four teams rose to the top of their respective classes in grand fashion, and we were here for periodic coverage and notes:

Championship Results
Ellsworth over MN Transitions Charter School, 81-63
New London-Spicer over Crosby-Ironton, 59-51
Benilde-St. Margaret's over Saint Thomas Academy, 58-52
Minnetonka over Henry Sibley, 68-59

#1 for a Reason; Tonka Nabs 4A Crown
They say that basketball is a game of runs, and well, we saw that in Saturday's 4A finale.

The first half saw the Minnetonka team that couldn't buy a basket. The second half saw the Skippers squad that couldn't miss buy a basket.

Minnetonka came out shooting a dismal 6-for-24, much of which could be accredited to Henry Sibley's scathing defense, and the Skippers trailed by as many as 22 in the first half. The biggest play of the night may have come when Tonka's C.J. Erickson hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half, cutting a lead that was once 33-11 to 33-20. There was hope.

And then some. The Skippers built on that late first-half run with 3-pointers in the second. Anthony Tucker, who finished with a game-high 27 points, hit a three to give Minnetonka its first lead at the 10:52 mark. They never looked back. When you shoot 66.7 percent in any half of basketball, chances are you put yourself in a position to win - or in Minnetonka's case, in a position to win the school's third state title..

- Matt Tiano

Benilde Hoists First State Crown
There is always a little extra motivation when their is a revenge factor. Maybe that motivation was exactly what Benilde-St. Margaret's, losers to St. Thomas Academy on this very floor in this very game one year ago, needed.

Having trailed virtually the entire way, St. Thomas Academy mounted a second-half run that almost wiped away Benilde's 14-point halftime lead. Before anyone knew it, the Red Knights led by three with 30.1 seconds left after the Cadets' Alex Schneider - who had 27 points and 12 rebounds - tipped in a missed free throw.

Not to worry, Red Knights fans, Jordan Taylor was on the floor. Taylor sank three free throws and had a steal in the game's final 22 seconds to secure his school's first State crown.

Benilde only managed six field goals in the second half, but sank 18-of-25 free throws for the game.

- Matt Tiano

First Day Results
Benilde-St. Margaret's over Como Park, 76-62
Patrick Henry over St. Michael-Albertville, 72-60
Cooper over Burnsville, 54-52
Minnetonka over Bloomington Kennedy, 66-59
Henry Sibley over Rochester Mayo, 68-58

On Thursday in the 3A semifinals, top-seed Benilde battles Patrick Henry at 6 p.m, while second-seed St. Thomas faces Wilmar at 8 p.m. Both games are at Target Center.

Skippers One Win Away
Minnetonka will get a crack at its third state title in school history after a decisive 83-59 win over St. Cloud Tech in Thursday's 4A semifinal,

For 16-plus minutes, Tech was competing with the state's top overall seed. Despite a lack of size, Tech was getting up and down, getting open looks and keeping Tonka's balanced offense in check. Tech, however, couldn't convert those open looks into points - shooting 26.3 percent from the field (10-of-38) and 10 percent from three (1-of-10). Cold shooting presumptively led to a Skipper run that broke the game wide open.

With two minutes remaining in the first half, Tech trailed 27-21 when guard Alex Hanks missed an open layup. Over the course of the next minute, Metro Player of the Year Anthony Tucker (who had 16 first-half points) canned three-straight 3-pointers, before another Tech miss led to a breakaway dunk from C.J. Erickson to cap an 11-0 run that sent most of Minnetonka High into a frenzy.

In the second half, the Skippers led by as many by 23, and Tech never cut the deficit to more than 15. Minnetonka will face the winner of Cooper and Henry Sibley, which tips off at 2 p.m.

We spoke with Tonka coach John Hedstrom and guard Anthony Tucker after the game:

Hedstrom postgame:
"I don't know if (the run at the end of the first half) is good or bad. We've been a streaky team all year. You saw it today and you saw it yesterday. We get up 20 points. We go on a 10 or 12-0 run, whatever it is and what I try to do is try and get them to play sustained intensity basketball. You have to run but you don't want that to stop you from playing hard at the defensive end. What you have to see is it (wasn't) just the shots, we started getting stops."

"(Tech) was a totally different team from Kennedy yesterday. Kennedy was more a stand and dribble and one-on-one type of team. This team was movement. To be frank, we play better against movement. Sometimes we get bored off the ball. We did a really good job working through their screens. We were getting up in guys and rushing them. I think they were having to shoot the ball a little faster than they were used to."

Tucker Postgame Audio

- Matt Tiano

Henry Sibley Beats Cooper, Heads to Final vs. Minnetonka
Tied at 39 midway through the second half, Henry Sibley outscored Robbinsdale Cooper 29-13 to close the game and take its place in the State Championship Saturday night against Minnetonka.

Sibley led by 10 at halftime, but Cooper came flying out of the tunnel to briefly take a one-point lead ... though it wouldn't last long.

Sibley slugged back with a big run of its own, delivering to the squad in red and yellow jerseys a 60-46 advantage at the four-minute mark that Cooper wasn't able to diminish. After one particularly sweet finish on the fastbreak, Sibley's fans united in the proverbial "We can't hear you!!!" chants, much to the dismay of the Cooper faithful. A few minutes later, the chant turned to "Season's Over! ... "Season's Over!!!"

It was through tough interior defense and solid transition offense that Sibley staked its claim on the title game, not to mention frustrating Cooper star - and nation-wide recruit - Rodney Williams, Jr. into a technical foul for an elbow after an offensive board. Williams still managed to lead all scorers with 26 points (plus five boards), but he'll have to wait another year for a shot at Target Center glory.

The game was extremely physical but not extremely well-played, perhaps due to the intensity, and either team would have been a prohibitive underdog against Minnetonka. Yet and still, Sibley has enough talent and grit to make the Skippers earn their third state title. The final game tips off at 8 p.m. on Saturday right here at Target Center.

Sibley Head Coach Tim Dasovich Postgame Audio

- Mike Trudell

#1 Minnetonka Opens With a Win
Top overall seed and presumptive favorite Minnetonka opened the 2008 Tournament with a 66-59 victory over a gritty Bloomington Kennedy team that refused to go down quietly.

The result was no surprise: The Skippers came into the tournament with a 25-3 record, with one loss to rival Hopkins - perhaps the second-best team in the state - and the other two to national powerhouses (Madison Memorial and Campbell Hall, the latter of which features the nation's best player, Jrue Holiday). Tonka lost to Hopkins the first time the teams met (79-75) but returned the favor with a 93-79 win a few weeks later. Then, in the game that mattered most - the Section 6AAAA Championship - Minnetonka emerged with a 74-71 OT victory to jump to the State Tourney.

Bloomington Kennedy (19-9) traveled down a less expected road. After losing to Section 2AAAA powerhouse Eden Prairie by a (get this) combined 75 points (no typo ... that's 75, unless the State Tourney book has a misprint) in two regular-season games, Kennedy knocked off EP by the same score (74-71) that Tonka had beaten Hopkins. Kennedy then beat Shakopee in the Section Finals and was rewarded with the state's best team in the first round. Tough break.

Despite the best efforts of lightning-quick point guard and Kennedy leader Alfred Jaryan (2008), Minnetonka was simply too good and too deep. Jaryan played all but the last 6.9 seconds of the game (leaving for an appreciative ovation) and finished with 16 points and five assists, while teammate Carlton Starr added 15 points. The Skippers were led by All-Metro Anthony Tucker, who was on fire early (15 first half points) and finished with a game-high 27. C.J. Erickson chipped in 13 points and eight boards, while point guard Andy Burns contributed four assists and did as good of a job as could be expected containing Jaryan.

Kennedy chipped away at Minnetonka's big early lead and closed to within eight points at 44-36 early in the second half, but Tucker responded with a big three-pointer. A few minutes later, Kennedy again fought back to within a reasonable deficit only to see Tucker break away for a fastbreak dunk with 7:38 remaining that put the Skippers up 54-42. That's why he's playing D1 next year.

After the game, we heard from Tonka head coach John Hedstrom and forward C.J. Erickson. Neither were happy with how the team played, but both were excited with the prospect of facing St. Cloud Tech (who beat Cambridge-Isanti in the day's second game) on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for noon at Target Center.

John Hedstrom Postgame Audio

C.J. Erickson Postgame Audio

- Mike Trudell