Wednesday’s Class 4A state tournament quarterfinal against St. Michael-Albertville was something of a stress test for the Centennial girls basketball team.
The Cougars struggled early this season in a schedule loaded with top teams such as Stillwater, Eden Prairie, White Bear Lake and Roseville, starting 3-9 overall. They rebounded with a 16-2 run into their second straight state tournament, and coach Jamie Sobolik wanted to know where his team stood.
“We took our lumps pretty bad back in December and it was just one of those (questions): ‘Are we at that level?’ Sobolik said. “Tonight was a way for us to see for ourselves, are we at that level?”
After a 69-58 loss to fifth-ranked St. Michael-Albertville on Wednesday at Williams Arena, the Cougars had an answer.
“We’re close to it,” Sobolik said.
Tessa Johnson hit six 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 24 points, and Emma Miller added 15 points, six rebounds and two steals to lead the Knights (22-7) into Thursday’s semifinals against Roseville (22-8).
“I liked the way they just continued to battle,” Knights coach Kent Hamre said. “You know, we got a nice lead and the next thing you know, we kind of let them back in. We’ve had adversity all year with the schedule we play in the Lake Conference, and I think that’s what made us stay strong and made us stay together — because we’ve been in this position before.
Ja’Kahla Craft added 19 points and four boards for the Knights, who shot 14 of 30 from beyond the arc. Craft made five of them.
“One of the things we talked about was going ahead and try to disrupt their 3-point shots and try to keep them out of their rhythm,” Sobolik said. “They have such a quick release and they’ve got kids that can get to the basket, which forces everybody to help down — and when they make that kickout (pass), it’s just too hard to go ahead and close down from that far away.”
Sydney Kubes finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, and Camille Cummings and Marisa Frost added 12 points each for the Cougars (19-12), who were down by as many as 19 points in the second half but used an 8-0 run — including two 3-pointers from Kubes — to close within 67-56 with 2 minutes left.
The Cougars got an open look on a 3-pointer that would have cut that lead to eight points but missed and were limited to two free throws the rest of the way.
“We knew they went on runs; we talked about it before the game,” said Cumming, who has been hampered by injuries to both shins. “We knew that teams they’ve played have come back, like we did. We did come back but we couldn’t finish out at the end. But we gave them a game.”
Centennial will play No. 8 Shakopee in the consolation bracket on Thursday. Sobolik scouted the Sabers’ section final win at Eden Prairie last Friday “because you never know.”
The Cougars wanted to know how they stack up against the state’s best, and they have another shot right away against Shakopee (26-4).
“We’re looking forward to the challenge,” Sobolik said, “And I’m sure they’re very disappointed after that game, and who knows what their mentality is when they come to that gym tomorrow.”