Robbinsdale Cooper is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, and with the postseason quickly approaching, the rest of the season will be used to work out whatever kinks may hinder its chances at a state championship.
“We’re in that February stretch where we’re trying to kind of smooth things out and be consistent,” Robbinsdale Cooper coach Kiara Buford said after the Hawks (18-2, 9-0) defeated Metro West rival Chanhassen 86-77 on the road Wednesday.
The win gives the Hawks a two-game lead in the conference over the Storm (10-10, 7-2).
“Our last two games were tough games for us, but great challenges. We need these games at this time of the year,” Buford said.
Before Wednesday’s win, Robbinsdale Cooper on Monday notched a 62-60 win over Chaska. Kierra Wheeler was held to six points in the narrow victory. She got back to her usual scoring ways against the Storm, putting up a game-high 23 points.
“It was a big game for her to kind of re-establish herself in what she does,” Buford said. “Chaska kind of packed it in down there. With (Chanhassen) being a little bit smaller she was able to finish and get some good looks.”
Despite 163 points scored, defense might not seem like the focus. But both teams switched their defensive strategies throughout the game to try and cool down the other team. The Hawks – who forced 11 steals – switched between man-to-man and zone a few times, and Buford thinks the combination led to their success.
“I think that they pass and cut really well,” she said. “Which is why we went into a zone to even that out. But then I also feel like our man-to-man is pretty good because of our ball pressure. I think giving them both of those looks and making them mix it up was good for us.”
Aja Wheeler enjoyed the defensive end of the floor with two steals and a block.
“It’s not about offense to me, it’s always about defense, offense will come,” Wheeler said.
Offense came easily as she scored 22 points and dished out four assists. Buford said that Wheeler’s offensive ability made the Storm change course.
“Her ability to get to the basket is tough, and that’s why I think they switched up their defense a lot to go from zone to man to guard her,” she said.
The Storm gave the Hawks headaches as well, led by eighth grader Nicole Bowlin and her seven steals off the bench.
Seniors Sydney Brastad and Maddie Ragnow led the Storm in scoring with 17 points apiece.
As the top team in 3A, Robbinsdale Cooper’s depth and athleticism will be difficult to beat. All eight Hawks players who logged minutes got on the scoreboard.
“Night in and night out, I have six players, anyone of them can go for double figures. I think that’s what makes us tough, and tough to match up with,” Buford said.
Asked to give a prediction for the remainder of the season, Aja Wheeler had a short answer: “It’s going to be amazing.”
In a critical battle atop the Metro West Conference standings Wednesday, Robbinsdale Cooper avoided an upset and beat Chanhassen 86-77 at Chanhassen High School.
The Hawks, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A by Minnesota Basketball News, relied on the lethal duo of Aja and Kierra Wheeler, who combined for 45 points. They each pulled down seven rebounds.
All eight Robbinsdale Cooper (18-2, 9-0) players who logged minutes got on the scoreboard.
The high-scoring affair was never out of reach for the Storm, who were able to knock the second-half deficit down to five. But the Hawks made clutch free throws, finishing 20 of 24 from the charity stripe.
Seniors Sydney Brastad and Maddie Ragnow led the Storm (10-10, 7-2) with 17 points apiece.
The win keeps the Hawks undefeated in the conference play this season, and it extends their lead over the Storm to two games with five left to play.
Click photos to view the entire gallery from the game
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