Hopkins guard Paige Bueckers was loose. The Royals' Class 4A semifinal game against Roseville was moments from beginning, but there was no sign of nerves. Bueckers was laughing as she directed a teammate to the right spot before pregame introductions.
That's the way it is for a program for which big games are simply a way of life.
Hopkins did just as expected, rolling over Roseville 61-34 on Thursday to advance to the Class 4A championship game for the third consecutive season. Bueckers, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, led the Royals with 21 points.
"It's all about having fun," Bueckers said. "That's what we try to do out there — laugh, joke around off the court. On the court, it's serious business, but we just want to have fun."
Roseville certainly didn't roll over. The Raiders never backed down from Hopkins and trailed by just eight points, 23-15, with less than six minutes left in the first half.
Hopkins then asserted itself on the offensive boards, getting three put backs — two by eighth-grader Amaya Battle — to build a 21-point halftime lead.
"Amaya Battle did a great job," Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff said. "She had eight rebounds at halftime. The key was getting those [offensive] boards and limiting them to one shot."
The Royals' pressure defense and transition offense extended their lead early in the second half to 29 points, a comfortable margin they maintained throughout the rest of the game.
Battle finished 13 points along with her eight rebounds and Dlayla Chakolis added 12 points for Hopkins (28-3). The Royals' dominance showed in the game's boxscore. They outshot the 23-8 Raiders from the field, 38.7 percent to 27 percent, owned a 41-29 rebounding edge and forced 17 turnovers while committing just six.
"We know they score in runs and boy, do they score in runs," Roseville coach Jeff Crosby said. "Everyone's got a good plan until they get hit in the face, according to Mike Tyson. They got us rattled tonight.
"We held it together at times, but they rattled us."