Angie Hammond (25) of Hopkins
The stakes: It’s been 20 years since the Minnesota State High School League went to four classes in basketball, but never before have both Class 4A finalists been undefeated. Top-seeded Hopkins and No. 2-seeded Elk River both flaunt gaudy 31-0 records, making Saturday’s final one of the most anticipated championship games in a generation.
The stars: Elk River has the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year in senior Gabi Haack. Hopkins has the player many feel has a chance to become the best in state history in freshman guard Paige Bueckers.
Elk River at a glance: The Elks, starting five seniors, are making their first state tournament appearance since 2006. Haack averaged 26.1 points during the regular season, but that has dropped to 17 points in the postseason with teams scheming to stop her. The 5-10 guard can step out and hit the three-pointer but is at her best when she’s driving the lane and can use her knack for scoring to finish inside.
Hopkins at a glance: The Royals would likely be a state tournament team even without Bueckers, but the slender 5-10 guard elevates them from just another talented team to a potentially great one. She can score inside or out, has terrific body control and is equally adept at scoring or distributing. On the rare occasions that Bueckers has an off night, Hopkins can lean on swift southpaw Raena Suggs for scoring and point guard D.D. Winston for leadership.
Elk River will win if: The Elks can force Bueckers to work on offense and control the defensive boards, and not let Hopkins get easy second-chance baskets. They’ll need to find a consistent outside threat to draw out the Hopkins defense.
Hopkins will win if: Elk River fails to convert chances inside. The Elks’ lack of depth could be exposed if the game is called tightly and one of their key starters gets in foul trouble. And, of course, if Bueckers continues her spectacular postseason offensive show.