Adding up all the games and practices as a player, Kiara Buford has taken the court at Williams Arena hundreds of times.
Six years removed from her standout career with the Gophers, Buford is going back to the Barn as a head coach. Her top-ranked Robbinsdale Cooper team will make its first state tournament appearance after defeating Benilde-St. Margaret's 62-47 on Thursday in the Class 3A, Section 6 final in Chanhassen.
The Hawks' 19th consecutive victory was their third of the season over the Red Knights, whom they swept on their way to a 14-0 showing in the Metro West Conference.
"What they've been able to do, not just tonight but through the entire season and the conference, has been really special," Buford said. "The things we've worked on are our character and mental toughness, and I think those things will help us be ready to play in that environment."
Senior Jada Buford, Coach Buford's younger sister, jump-started a game-opening 17-5 run for the Hawks (26-2) with a three-pointer on the first trip down the floor.
The Red Knights (19-10) pulled within 18-16 on Isabel Fleming's three-pointer midway through the first half. But Cooper responded with a 15-4 run, highlighted by three-pointers from senior Aja Wheeler, Andrea Tribble and Ty'neecia Longs to extend its lead to 33-20 at halftime.
The Hawks made six first-half three pointers, opening up the midde for freshman forward Kierra Wheeler, who scored 15 of her 16 points in the second half.
Fleming led the Red Knights with a game-high 26 points.