Bouncing into each other's arms and mugging for the camera, the Lakeville North girls' basketball team looked the part of triumphant underdogs.
The Panthers enjoyed a turbocharged start and endured a near-collapse within a 69-52 upset of No. 2 seed Centennial on Tuesday in the Class 4A state tournament quarterfinals at Target Center.
The victory marked only the second time a No. 2 seed fell in the opening round and the first time since 2010. Lakeville North's lead ballooned to 35-9 in the first half before Centennial whittled it down to a one-possession game in the second half.
The Panthers remained unfazed.
"It felt like a tight game; it felt like a two-point game the entire time," said Panthers junior forward MacKenzie Denk, who scored a game-high 21 points.
"The intensity was there for both teams the whole time. We just had to have more heart to win."
Struggling to contain Lakeville North's quickness, Centennial used a trapping defense in the second half to slow the pace. The switch helped the Cougars build a 22-5 run to shrink Lakeville North's lead to 42-40. Jill Conrad fueled the comeback with 10 of Centennial's points.
Then Denk scored, followed by field goals from Temi Carda and Jessica Meidl, and the Panthers (21-9) went ahead 54-44. The spent Cougars (23-6) could not get within six points down the stretch.
"Adrenaline was wearing off," Centennial coach Greg Amundson said. "I'm sure the legs weren't working like they should have."
DAVID LA VAQUE
Top seed avoids upset
Eastview 63, St. Paul Central 58: Eastview's teams are nicknamed the Lightning, but St. Paul Central stood tall and nearly shocked the state.
Top-ranked and the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A state tournament field, Eastview could not shake upset-minded Central. The teams were separated by one point late in the second half before the Lightning escaped with the victory.
"We expected that," Eastview coach Melissa Guebert said. "This is the state tournament and there are no easy games. It was nice to see the girls battle through that."
Eastview (29-1) held a 30-28 edge to begin the second half. But St. Paul Central (24-6) took over, thanks to Jada Jones, Chelcie Kizart and Lyric Williams.
The trio combined for 14 points through the first 5 minutes, 42 seconds of the second half.
"We certainly weren't taking them lightly," Guebert said. "They are fast and they are physical in a good way. They hit the outside shot more than I expected."
A familiar duo kept Eastview close. Madison Guebert and Kari Opatz, the leading scorers all season, contributed 55 of the Lightning's 63 points. They stayed aggressive despite each playing with four fouls.
"This is the state tournament and everyone plays their hearts out," said Opatz, a senior guard. She finished with 26 points.
"We knew it would be a tough game, and at times we had our ups and downs. But it was a team effort and we got through it."
DAVID LA VAQUE
Winners healthy now
Eden Prairie 67, Anoka 57: The Eagles fell to the Tornadoes during the regular season but won the rematch on the strength of a full roster.
"It's called physical therapy," joked Chris Carr, Eden Prairie coach and former Timberwolves player. Emma Boehm and Esabelle Levine were injured during the first Anoka game and Carr said, "They are two really big contributors for us."
The tandem scored a combined 18 points while helping hold Anoka forward Claire Lundberg to nine points — seven below her season average.
Trailing 36-32 at halftime, Anoka made its move and built a 47-41 lead. Ashley Bray scored eight points during that stretch with Lundberg adding four points.
Eden Prairie took the blow, then returned fire. A 17-2 run ensured the Eagles (19-9) would never trail again. Making up for lost time, Boehm and Levine combined for a trio of three-pointers during the surge.
"We knew we could stay with them if we could control the ball," Anoka coach Scott Antl said.
"But we broke down; we turned the ball over way too much today and that was a fear of mine."
Sensing the Tornadoes (22-8) were wilting, Eden Prairie charged.
"When you're on a run you just want to keep pushing," said junior forward Martha Kuderer, who led all scorers with 19 points. "It gives you so much energy to make the next play."
DAVID LA VAQUE
Bell takes control
Bloomington Kennedy 71, St. Michael-Albertville 57: It was one of a half-dozen similar stretches Kennedy guard Kenisha Bell had in the Eagles' methodical victory, but it illustrated just how much influence the 5-foot-10 senior guard wielded.
Midway through the second half, with the Eagles fending off a run by St. Michael-Albertville (23-5), the uber-quick Bell found a slight opening and slashed through the lane for a layup. Her shot missed, but she outleaped the scrum underneath, grabbed the rebound and put it back in.
The next time she had the ball, she again found a seam in the defense and blew through it. This time, as the defense scrambled, she zipped a no-look pass to teammate Lasha Wright-Ponder for a basket. Kennedy's lead, which had bobbed between seven and 10 points for much of the game, was back to the comfortable stage at 53-41.
"She's been doing that all year," Kennedy coach Quinton Johnson said. "She has that ability to break down the defense, create things, make the right decisions."
Bell, a Marquette signee, finished with a game-high 29 points. She also had six rebounds and three look-at-that assists. She could have had at least three more if her teammates would have been able to handle her passes.
But Bell wasn't overly pleased with her performance. In fact, she said, she can play better. "Way better," she said. "I had a bunch of turnovers [eight]. I wasn't pacing myself well. "
Scary thought for Lakeville North, the Eagles' opponent in Thursday's semifinals.
The Eagles (25-6) defeated their South Suburban Conference rivals twice during the regular season.
"They know us," Johnson said. "There won't be any secrets."