After an important win over section opponent Orono, the Monticello girls basketball team had their win streak snapped at seven Saturday night, by Minneapolis Washburn.
Hosting a two-night jamboree, Monticello beat Orono 51-43 in a defensive struggle Friday night, before seeing their comeback effort fall just short in their 66-63 loss to state-ranked Washburn Saturday.
Friday night, Monticello got off to a slow start, as they looked to remain unbeaten in games against section opponents.
The opening minutes of the game were filled with turnovers and missed shots, as both teams tried to reacquaint themselves with basketball after the Christmas break.
It was three minutes and 30 seconds into the game when Orono got on the board first, scoring off of an offensive rebound.
The Magic answered immediately, breaking their own goose egg with a corner three-pointer from Gabby Laimer.
Monticello would pull ahead 8-4 in the next few minutes, before falling into an offense slumber for most of the half.
By the time another five-minute scoring drought had come and gone for the Magic, they found themselves trailing 18-10, with just over five minutes to go in the half.
“We just didn’t come out with the fire that we could have,” said Coach Craig Geyen, about the game’s opening stretch.
Geyen also pointed to poor shooting and too many turnovers as culprits in the early deficit.
But while Monticello was down, they certainly weren’t out, thanks largely to their defense.
Led by Alyssa Lentner, the defense continued to get stops, while the offense stalled, keeping the Magic in the game. When Lentner channeled her aggressiveness toward the offensive end, she helped will the Magic back in the game.
With just over a minute left in the half, Lentner’s basket plus a free throw brought Monticello to within 20-18 and it gave Lentner eight points in the half.
“She’s played extremely well these last four games,” said Geyen. “She’s been awesome. She’s scoring, getting rebounds, steals. She’s been hard to take off the court.”
When post player Emily Gruber finished on a layup in the final minute, the Magic finally pulled back even with the Spartans. A stop before the half kept the Magic there, 20-20, as they entered intermission.
Geyen said Monticello felt fortunate to be tied at the half, but also like it was an indicator of good things to come.
“It was maybe one of the worst halves we’ve played all year,” he said. “And we go [to the locker room] tied.”
In the second half, the Magic came out of the gates with more fire, using their defense to lead to offense and a quick 25-20 lead.
Orono would answer with a 5-0 spurt of their own to pull even, before Monticello went on a 12-3 run to open up a nine-point lead.
The Magic, due largely to turnovers, would let the Spartans hang around, but Orono never got closer than five as second half baskets from Gabby Laimer and free throws from Grace Sawatzke helped hold off the visitors.
While it wasn’t the prettiest of victories, Geyen said it was a good win for his team, and it was one that will likely pay off in the section standings.
“This is a good win for us,” he said. “But they’re only going to get better. We have to get better as well.”
The Magic did it with defense. Despite turning the ball over 26 times, they won the turnover battle by forcing 28 Orono turnovers. They also held the Spartans to just 30 percent shooting from the field.
Saturday night, Monticello got off to a better start, but was done in by a mid-game lull.
According to Geyen, the game went back and forth during the opening minutes.
“For the first five minutes, we played our brand of basketball,” he said. “Then, we got away from it.”
The game remained close for much of the first half, before a spurt by the Millers, ranked No. 10 in Class AAA, staked them to a 37-27 lead over the Magic, No. 4 in AAA.
In the second half, Washburn continued to control play. The Millers stretched their lead all the way to 15 points, according to Geyen.
But with ten minutes remaining, the Magic started chipping away.
The core of this team has shown it can come back from seemingly insurmountable deficits – last year’s state tournament – and Saturday they made it look as though they’d add another one to the list.
The Magic cut the lead in half as they neared the final minutes of the game, and with a strong closing kick the home team was able to erase the deficit completely, taking a one point lead with just over a minute left.
“We turned up the pressure, and were playing our style again,” said Geyen.
Monticello had a couple of chances to extend the lead, but couldn’t. And when Washburn took it back on their next possession, the Magic were out of tricks. They missed two late three-pointers to tie or take the lead, and fell, 66-63.
Monti was led by Sawatzke, who scored 17 points. Gruber, who scored 16 points and added nine rebounds while squaring off with a University of Iowa recruit, as well as Lentner (13 points, 11 rebounds) turned in big all-around efforts for the Magic.
“Those two really got after it,” said Geyen.
The Magic were once again done in by turnovers, turning it over 22 times, for a total of 48 in two games.
“You’re not going to win a lot doing that,” said Geyen.
The Magic, who are preparing for the heart of the conference schedule, own a strong record (7-3) but know there is room for improvement.
“We have room to grow,” said Geyen. “There are little things that we have to continue to work at. “You have that idea of where they can get to, and you want to get them there.”
Contact Clay Sawatzke at email@example.com