DeLaSalle center Nora Francois (21) and Becker guard Courtney Nuest (15) battled for the ball in the first half. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky ¥ firstname.lastname@example.org
With a little more than one minute left and the outcome of the Class 3A basketball state championship settled, DeLaSalle senior Mary Claire Francois checked out of the game and into a celebratory hug with coach Tanysha Scott.
The two held tight to one another and began to shake with joy. The Islanders defeated Becker 56-40 and Francois, who entered the program as one of a half-dozen eighth-graders, went out a winner.
“She’s the one that really stuck through it and stayed,” Scott said. “I told her, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is what we wanted.’ ”
Francois, younger sister Nora and Nurjei Weems all started Saturday at Williams Arena and the trio of 6-footers asserted themselves at both ends. Their teammates did likewise. The length and active hands of DeLaSalle’s players brought inside scoring and harassment of Becker’s offense.
Dan Baird, coach of the No. 3 seed Bulldogs (27-5), brought in a mix of players’ fathers and Becker boys’ basketball players to Friday’s practice to simulate DeLaSalle’s size and quickness. But the real thing couldn’t be overcome.
No. 1 seed DeLaSalle (24-5) led 31-22 at halftime on the strength of superior inside scoring (22-6) and points off turnovers (14-3).
“All five of their kids have long arms and are extremely active,” Baird said. “It was hard for us to get in a groove all game.”
The Francois sisters and Weems finished with a combined for 35 points on mostly put-backs and lob passes.
DeLaSalle stood taller than the Class 3A field this season and effectively used its height at both ends of the floor in a 56-40 championship game victory against Becker.
No. 1 seed DeLaSalle (24-5) pulled away late from No. 3 seed Becker (27-5) as the upset-minded Bulldogs came up short on Saturday at Williams Arena.
DeLaSalle, a Minneapolis-based private school, led 31-22 at halftime. The Islanders built their advantage by starting their tallest lineup of the state tournament. A trio of 6-footers -- Nora Francois, sister Mary Claire and Nurjei Weems -- asserted themselves on offense and defense.
Defensively, the Islanders didn’t give Becker a moment’s peace. They invaded passing lanes and tipped balls away or made Becker players work harder to secure catches. They started with mostly man defense, shadowing Becker shooters on the perimeter and running occasional double-teams at guard Julia Bengtson.
DeLaSalle forced 11 turnovers in the first half and turned them into 14 points.
Becker finished the game 4-for-18 (22 percent) on three-pointers after doing much of its damage in the first two games from beyond the three-point arc. The Bulldogs made more than 50-percent of their threes in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Bengtson and Courtney Nuest combined for 16 of their team’s first-half points.
Offensively, DeLaSalle’s inside game was once again tough to beat. The Islanders, who scored at least 20 points in the paint in the quarterfinals and semifinals, tallied 22 points inside in the first half. The Francois sisters and Weems combined for 18 points in the first half on a variety of put-backs and lob passes.