Royals take down Cambridge-Isanti in opening round of girls basketball state

March 11, 2020

Sophomore forward Maya Nnaji scored an easy lay-in about ten seconds into Hopkins’ opening game of the 2020 MSHSL girls state basketball tournament and the team never looked back, holding onto the lead until the final buzzer and demolishing the Cambridge-Isanti Bluejackets 85-55.

The Royals (29-0) put on a tutorial for how to play unselfish team basketball with suffocating defense that serves as head coach Brian Cosgriff’s modus operandi. Assists were plentiful and the scoring was evenly distributed among all five starters and the role players who worked their way into the rotation.

Senior Paige Bueckers, who is fresh off of being named Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year and Gatorade National Player of the Year, operated more as a distributor and a playmaker than a scoring machine. Her performance was not a game-breaking one like it was in the section final against Wayzata, but she has never been one to care about dropping 40.

“I’ve never really cared about how many points I score, all I care about is winning,” said Bueckers. “I know I can step up and score when I want to, but with the tournament now, I gotta get everyone involved and get everyone’s confidence up. It was just about being unselfish and making everyone else better.”

She didn’t even have to crack the 10 point threshold in the dominant Hopkins victory and her slick passing abilities were fully on display with eight assists that were  ready made for SLAM or Overtime.

Cambridge-Isanti could only keep up with the Royals for the first couple minutes of the opening half by trying to get out ahead of Hopkins in transition and avoid the press, but their pace could not keep up and they found themselves in a 15-point hole before a quarter of the game had elapsed.

Nnaji was the real star of the Royals victory, keeping pace with the Bluejackets first half scoring nearly all by herself with 17 points. She concluded her stellar performance with 23 points and seven boards.

Hopkins could do no wrong in the first half of action. On defense, the Royals made good use out of their height advantage to control the paint with Nnaji, Bueckers and sophomore guard Amaya Battle all swatting a handful of shots. On offense, the Royals produced 54 points in the first half and ended the period emphatically with a turnaround buzzer-beater by senior guard KK Adams to give Hopkins a 30-point halftime lead.

The Royals didn’t put on their most dominant performance in the second-half, but with the outcome of the game no longer in question, it ultimately didn’t matter. Cosgriff turned it over to the reserves with a little over four minutes remaining in the rout.

The victory pushed the Royals winning streak to 61 games and places them in a semifinal matchup against the winner of the Stillwater-Park Center clash at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Hopkins defeated Park Center 97-79 on Dec. 28, but they have yet to play Stillwater since last season’s state championship game.

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