A second-half dry spell plagued the Tornadoes in a 67-57 loss to Eden Prairie in the state quarterfinals.
For the third time in four seasons Anoka girls basketball reached the state tournament, only to lose in the opening round.
A Rachel Banum-led Lakeville North team ended the magical run in 2011 and eventual state runner-up Bloomington Kennedy did the same in 2013.
This year, it was No. 3 seed Eden Prairie that disposed of No. 5 Anoka 67-57 in the second Class AAAA quarterfinal of the day at Target Center Tuesday afternoon.
“We broke down and turned the ball over way too much today and that was a fear of mine,” Anoka coach Scot Antl said in response to the Tornadoes 21 turnovers, compared to Eden Prairie’s 17. Eden Prairie made Anoka pay for those turnovers with a 33-15 edge in the game including 15-8 in the first half.
The Tornadoes won the previous meeting with Eden Prairie 58-55 at home Feb. 13 and looked to repeat with its size advantage and experience (nine seniors) to help dictate the pace of play to negate the Eagles transition scoring.
The Eagles were without Emma Boehm and Esabelle Levine in that game and each had nine points Tuesday. Limiting Anoka’s free throws was another goal for Eden Prairie and they did that by forcing them to work harder to get shots.
“We knew we could stay with them if we could control and the ball and they got some key turnovers on us and converted on it,” Antl said. “I feel more worse for them than anything because with so many seniors, they just can’t get over that first-game hump.”
Eden Prairie knocked off Hopkins, the three-time defending state champions, in the section semifinal 51-46 only to score another upset against Minnetonka 60-49 to capture the Section 6AAAA title four days earlier.
“It’s been great and we’re not supposed to be in this situation. We’ve been lucky,” Eagles coach Chris Carr said. “We got lucky again today. We were dead in the water down 47-41. We just have to keep getting lucky and working hard.”
Tuesday afternoon featured a close game throughout the first half where neither team could take control.
Anoka appeared ready to push ahead early in the second half after a 3-pointer by Ashley Bray was followed by two free throws by Claire Lundberg to build a game-high lead of 47-41 with 9:34 left. Bray and Kyrah Fredenburg each scored 14 points to lead the Tornadoes.
Instead, the Tornadoes went cold offensively and Eden Prairie came roaring back on a 17-2 run over a span of 5:56 in the second half.
Amber Bray sank the second free throw to close the lead to five, 58-53, with 2:48 remaining. But that was as close as Anoka would get.
Eden Prairie finished on a 26-10 run to reach the Class AAAA semifinals.
“Eden Prairie is a great team and quick and we’re not a quick team. We are built for length [and to play] in our zone,” Antl said, realizing they couldn’t press the Eagles more to break the 17-2 run in the second half. “We’re not a press team and our shots weren’t falling and Lundberg couldn’t get going.
Anoka went from shooting 41 percent (9-22) from the field in the first half to 27.3 percent (6-22) in the second half and took a dip at the free throw line making 12-15 (80 percent) in the first half to 10-15 in the second half (67 percent).
Amber Bray and Claire Lundberg each had nine points and Alivia Buggs contributed six points in 13 minutes before fouling out with 28 seconds left.
Lundberg opened the second half with a mid-range basket to cut the lead to 36-34 and Anoka rallied to lead 47-41 with 9:34 left to play. From that point on Eden Prairie went on a decisive run to build an insurmountable lead.
Fredenburg was held to three points in the first half after slipping inside on several occasions to provide a different wrinkle in the Tornadoes offense in the opening half.
The move allowed Buggs to run the point at times, along with Sam Brannen, Sam Adamich and Naomi Torgerson.
In the end Anoka couldn’t find an answer for the Eden Prairie’s Martha Kuderer or point guard Jayla Mayes-Jackson. The two finished with 19 and 18 points, respectively. Kuderer made 3-of-5 3-pointers, including 3-4 in the first half.
Tight first half
A close first half saw seven ties. Eden Prairie led by as much as five points, 27-22 with 3:23 left in the opening half.
Antl knew they could stay within reach if the score remained that close.
“We made shots and they adjusted to the zone in the second half,” Antl said. “We played the zone the way we wanted to in the first half and knew they got energized if they got up by more than five or six points and can be a scary team and build off that.”
Lundberg said the press by Eden Prairie caused problems for Anoka’s offense early on: “The press was really killing us but after we figured it out we were getting going a little bit.”
Hoping to once again contain the Eagles’ speed, Anoka only generated two leads of three points – 11-8 with 9:15 left on a Kyrah Fredenburg lay-up and 17-14 with 7:27 left after a series of plays including a steal and fast-break lay-up by senior guard Alivia Buggs.
“We knew if we could get Buggs to handle the ball more, that would free up Kyrah more,” Antl said.
After the hard work to build the narrow lead, Eden Prairie quickly responded with a 3-pointer by Martha Kuderer to tie the game at 17 with 7:11 left.
Anoka’s defense helped keep the score close as well with post Jordan Meyer controlling the paint. She blocked two shots in the first half and finished the game with three blocks. The North Dakota recruit finished the season with 56 blocks and 19 steals. She also had five rebounds to finish her senior season with 114 rebounds.
Ashley Bray kept the Tornadoes close by making four straight free throws in the final 1:40 but Eden Prairie countered with senior point guard Jayla Mayes-Jackson extending the lead in the final minute of the half.
Mayes-Jackson stole the ball from Anoka’s Cassidy Sarazine then converted a lay-up while being fouled. She made the following free throw to make it 34-30 in favor of the Eagles into the half.
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