It's all about hesitation. Against Hopkins, even the slightest pause can be painful.
Just ask Shakopee. The Sabers got a lesson in high-pressure basketball as No. 1-ranked Hopkins suffocated them with defense and ran past them when they made a mistake en route to a 64-33 victory in the Class 4A semifinals.
With players like T.T. Starks, Nia Hollie and Ashley Bates, Hopkins (29-1) is arguably the most talented team in the state. But it's the Royals' in-your-face style that is their biggest weapon. Walk the ball up the court? Won't happen. Nobody walks against Hopkins. Set up a play on offense? Hard to do with a Hopkins player velcroed to your uniform. Take an open shot? Yeah, right.
And it's constant. The Royals are like corduroy pants — they rub and rub until their opponent is simply worn out.
"They just wear you out," Shakopee coach Juan Mitchell said. "You can't pause for a second or they'll be on you."
Shakopee, playing in its first state tournament in 18 years, hung with Hopkins for the first nine minutes of the game, but it wasn't long before Hopkins began to pull away. The Royals went on a 14-2 run in the latter stages of the first half, building a 37-23 halftime lead.
Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff wasn't entirely pleased, however. "I thought there were a few possessions there where we got tired," he said. "At this stage of the season, you can't get tired. You have to work through it."
Apparently, Cosgriff's message got through to his team. The Royals sealed the game with a 19-0 surge to start the second half, bumping the lead to 56-27. The lead eventually became 35 points and the game concluded with running time.
Nia Hollie and T.T. Starks led Hopkins with 16 points each. Shakopee's Taylor Koenen scored 12 points to lead the Sabers (22-9).
"It's all been about getting to the state championship game," Cosgriff said. "Every day, on the blackboard we'd write 'March 21, Williams Arena, 8 p.m.' Now that we've made it to the championship game, win or lose, we can say it's been a great season."
Eastview 48, Hopkins 30: Eastview remained calm and kept playing.
Even when star guard Madison Guebert fouled out, No. 2-seeded Eastview never flinched, pulling out a victory over St. Michael-Albertville to advance to Saturday's Class 4A championship game against Hopkins.
"It was kind of weird sitting on the bench," said Guebert, the reigning Star Tribune Player of the Year. "But I still wanted to do everything I could to support the team."
St. Michael-Albertville, playing without starting point guard Rae Johnson, who was out with the flu, kept Eastview's potent offense in check in the first half, which ended in a 21-21 tie.
Eastview (30-1) tightened up its defense in the second half, holding St. Michael-Albertville to two points for the first 10 minutes. The Lightning methodically built its lead during that stretch, extending it to 35-23 after Guebert hit back-to-back baskets.
"We stepped up the defensive intensity," Guebert said.
St. Michael-Albertville (26-4) got one last breath of hope when Guebert fouled out with 5:10 left, but 6-foot-2 senior forward Sam Trammel helped snuff that out quickly. Trammel scored six points down the stretch and finished with a game-high 20.
"We knew we could do it, even with Madi out," Trammel said. "We have a saying: We before me."
Saturday's final will be the third meeting of the season between Eastview and Hopkins, the two having split the two previous meetings.