State girls basketball: Hopkins downs White Bear Lake in Class 4A quarters

Hopkins star guard Liv McGill was limited to fewer than eight minutes of playing time by foul trouble in the first half of the Royals’ Class 4A state tournament quarterfinal game against White Bear Lake on Wednesday.

“Didn’t matter,” White Bear Lake coach Jeremy Post quipped.

Indeed. Even with its best player on the bench, Hopkins led the Bears 39-16 at the break at Williams Arena en route to a 66-39 victory.

By game’s end, the University of Florida commit still tallied 14 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. But Hopkins’ depth was again on display. Lauren Hillesheim led the way with 17 points, while Tatum Woodson added 12.

“I want to be on the court playing, but I know my team can handle it,” McGill said. “My teammates handled business on the floor. I like cheering for my team.”

There was plenty for which to cheer. Hopkins forced 14 turnovers in the first half that resulted in 22 points. That’s the effect the Royals’ length and athleticism has on foes.

“It’s hard. The biggest thing is the speed of which things happen is not something we’re used to. We don’t play in that conference and we don’t see that. We scheduled Lakeville and we scheduled Eden Prairie and we scheduled Minnetonka, but that was two or three months ago. It takes time and it takes practice to adjust to that speed,” Post said. “The second half was better than the first half, because you feel it. But if you survive the first 10 minutes, you have a chance. We didn’t survive the first 10. We tried to stay together and do the best they can, which we did.”

White Bear Lake (21-8) did its best to prep for top-seeded Hopkins’ defensive pressure this week. The Bears used their boys student managers in practice to try to simulate the Royals’ style of play.

“They were basically doing what we saw (today),” Post said. “Just not as good.”

“Just with a lot of fouling,” White Bear Lake senior forward Jordyn Schmittdiel said of the boys’ efforts with a smile. “More hacking.”

Post noted White Bear Lake is the team in the Suburban East Conference that likes to get up and down. It’s not unusual for the Bears to have the physical advantage against opponents.

“In the pecking order, we’re above some people, but not above (Hopkins). So that physicality is really, really hard,” Post said.

Hopkins (26-3) is able to put McGill on the opponent’s point guard and immediately disrupt anything the other team is trying to get into. White Bear Lake’s adjustment was to have Schmittdiel, who had nine points and eight rebounds for the Bears, bring the ball up the floor more than she ever generally does.

“You’re just trying to survive out there, then it’s hard to play your normal game. That’s their biggest strength,” Post said. “Everything happens faster. You’ve got no margin for error.”

As Bears senior Heidi Barber noted, “you think you’ll get (the offense) started, and they’ll make a crazy play. You made a good play, and they were better.”

And yet, Hopkins noted it always has room for improvement. The Royals, last year’s state tournament runners-up, are always building toward a championship. Wednesday’s game was just another step on that path.

“Once you get into a position where you feel like you’ve got the game won, get better. Strengthen certain parts of your game. There were times that we got beat on the back door, get better,” Hopkins coach Tara Starks said of the team’s mentality. “As the tournament goes on, there are things that you’re going to need to do. … Finding those little things that you need to make sure you do to win a championship. You want to do it in the quarterfinal game, you want to carry it over to the semifinal game, and then you want to carry it over into the championship game.”

White Bear Lake eighth-grader Sarah Poepard led the Bears with 11 points on Wednesday. She noted this was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. While that’s a good sentiment, surely the Bears hope to be back again soon.

“We definitely have a chance,” Post said. “We’ll always have a chance.”

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