Richfield coach LeeAnn Wise had a surprise for her team before Thursday's 45-28 victory over Hutchinson in the Class 3A girls' basketball semifinals.
The Spartans (27-4) relied on a zone defense for much of the season and it paid off, earning them the No. 1 seed in the tournament. So they were taken aback when Wise announced plans to play man-to-man against the tall, experienced Tigers (26-4).
"We didn't know that we were going man. But it makes sense," guard Jessica January said. "We have a tendency to get lost on the backside when we play zone defense."
With Target Center's larger court and notoriously tight rims, Wise knew defense and execution would play big roles in the game.
The move worked to perfection. The Spartans continuously stymied Hutchinson's attempts to work the ball inside. Unaccustomed to Richfield's quickness, the Tigers had nearly as many turnovers (25) as they did points. The Tigers' point total was 18 points fewer than they had scored in any game this season.
"They have a run-and-gun mentality," Wise said of the Tigers. "But we wanted to make it tough for them to get the ball into their big players."
While Richfield's offense wasn't operating at peak efficiency, either, the Spartans did the things Wise expected of them.
"We emphasized three things before the game: layups, free throws and turnovers," Wise said. "I thought we did those things well."
January, the Spartans' fleet guard, scored 23 points to lead all scorers, including six clutch points in a 10-4 run midway through the second half that ended all hopes of a Hutchinson comeback.
"It wasn't easy, but we were ready to play," January said. "It wasn't the best looking game, but I'll take the 'W' no matter what."
DeLaSalle 59, Fergus Falls 51
Tournament-savvy DeLaSalle weathered an early onslaught from Fergus Falls, falling behind 10-2, before methodically battling back for a 59-51 victory and a chance to defend its 2011 Class 3A championship.
"We weren't nervous," said DeLaSalle junior guard Tyseanna Johnson, who is playing in her fourth consecutive state tournament. "We just had to stick together and play as a team."
DeLaSalle coach Faith Johnson Patterson knew her veteran squad had what it took to come back from Fergus Falls' initial burst. She wasn't going to panic, she said, and neither was her team.
"They look to me at that point," Johnson Patterson said. "They can't see me taking all kinds of timeouts and getting worried."
The Islanders, she said, just needed a simple defensive adjustment.
"We were extending our defense too far from the basket," Johnson Patterson said. "We had to defend the basket better. If they were going to shoot three-pointers, let them. We couldn't keep giving them easy baskets."
Defensive issues solved, the Islanders started to apply offensive pressure. With Johnson leading the charge, DeLaSalle (27-3) regained the lead with a 15-4 run late in the first half, taking a 28-25 lead at halftime.
After halftime, seniors Mia Loyd and Mariah Adanene combined for 17 of DeLaSalle's 31 points, repeatedly finding openings inside the Fergus Falls defense.
Johnson led DeLaSalle with 16 points, Adanene scored 14, and Loyd, who missed the 2011 championship because of a torn ACL, added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"This is so amazing to be a part of this after last year," Loyd said. "This being my senior year and to get the chance to play for a state tournament is unbelievable."
Mariah Monke paced Fergus Falls (29-2) with 13 points.