Take the top two girls’ basketball teams in the state. Season with a hefty helping of rivalry and a dash of star power. Combine in a large gymnasium on a Friday night, sprinkle with cabin fever left over from the absurd cold of midweek, and add an appetizer of a tasty boys’ matchup.
It proved to be a can’t-miss recipe for anyone who fancies himself or herself a true basketball fan.
What took place Friday at Hopkins’ Lindbergh Center was more than just a couple of good games between top-flight opponents. It was a regular-season showcase of basketball, where an estimated 4,000 fans turned out to see games that meant something.
What made the Wayzata/Hopkins doubleheader, both Royals victories, so special was how organically it came together. These weren’t calculated matchups like the early-season and holiday tournaments that have proliferated in past decade.
Hopkins and Wayzata play each other twice a season, no matter what. Why not put the boys and girls together on the same ticket?
The Hopkins boys used strong second-half defense and 41 points from multi-talented forward Zeke Nnaji to rally past Wayzata 90-80 in the opener. The No. 1, 4A Royals girls used the same formula in the main event, leaning on superstar guard Paige Bueckers to slip by the No. 2, 4A Trojans 69-66. Bueckers was fabulous, scoring a career-high 43 points and going over the 2,000-point plateau in the process.
Before the girls’ game, Hopkins coach Brian Cosgriff looked at the massive crowd that was on hand for the boys’ game and said, “I hope they all stay.” They did. In fact, many more came.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this place this full,” said Bob Bueckers, Paige’s father, moments after the girls’ game was over.
“What a great environment for girls’ basketball,” Cosgriff said. “People have to come out to see how good these girls are.”
The week ahead:
• Saturday: Minnetonka vs. Edina (at Braemar), 7 p.m. No. 2, 2A ’Tonka looks to avenge its only loss of the season. The No. 1, 2A Hornets won 5-2 on Jan. 24, getting two goals form Jett Jungels and three assists from Liam Malmquist.
Section playoffs begin this week. Staff writer David La Vaque will have an in-depth look at the pairings in Tuesday’s Star Tribune, but here are the top seeds:
Section 1: Farmington
Section 2: Eden Prairie
Section 3: Eagan
Section 6: Blake
Sections 4, 5, 7, 8: Not yet seeded.
Section 1: Rochester Lourdes/Dover-Eyota
Section 5: Breck
Section 7: Proctor/ Hermantown
Sections 2, 3, 4, 6, 8: Not yet seeded.