With 49.9 seconds left in Hopkins' 86-76 victory over Wayzata in the Class 4A, Section 6 championship game Thursday, Paige Bueckers show her true self.
The undefeated Royals had struggled to put the Trojans away all night, but in the final minute, a steal and a pass from Bueckers ended up sending Amaya Battle to the first throw line with a chance to bump the lead to 10 points and finally seal the victory.
Bueckers, standing near midcourt, threw a fist jubilantly in the air and let out a scream, a combination of relief and joy.
"She just wants to win," Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff said of his standout guard, a UConn recruit ranked as one of the best players in the nation. "That's the most important thing to her. She doesn't care how we do it, she just wants to win."
Bueckers laughed when remembering her celebration. "My emotions definitely got the best of me," she said. "I was just super-excited. I didn't want to lose my last game at home."
The victory for the Royals (28-0) was their 60th in a row, the third-longest streak in Minnesota girls' basketball history. But Wayzata put perhaps the biggest scare of the season into the defending Class 4A state champions.
Trojans center Annika Stewart had a hot hand, scoring inside and out en route to a team-high 27 points. And sophomore guard Mara Braun handled the Hopkins pressure like a seasoned vet, never letting Hopkins ramp up one their trademark runs. The Trojans (24-5) led 32-30 late in the first half and stayed within three to five points for much of the second, but they never could quite pull even.
"They battled. They were prepared," Cosgriff said. "They threw stuff at us and we answered. That was typical Hopkins/Wayzata game."
Wayzata coach Mike Schumacher said his team played about as well as it could play.
"We went nose-to-nose with a pretty darn good team and I thought we held our own," Schumacher said. "I wouldn't say we ran out of steam, they just made a few more shots than we did."
Bueckers, who scored 33 points, said she expected nothing less than they got from Wayzata.
"Hopkins-Wayzata is like Duke-Carolina," Bueckers said. "And to get to state, that puts more pressure on both teams. The crowd was enormous and just the atmosphere was really fun."
Among those in the sellout crowd of more than 2,000 were Timberwolves players Karl-Anthony Towns, DeAngelo Russell, Josh Okogie and James Johnson.
"That was cool," Bueckers said. "I got told before the game they would be here and for them to actually show up was pretty cool."