The semifinal round of the District 11 girls basketball tournament has been a hurdle Rugby just cannot clear.
The Panthers have lost their last seven appearances in the semifinals, including the past four tournaments.
Rugby coach Jennifer Brossart knows just how pivotal that game is for a number reasons.
For one thing, a semifinal win is a big confidence builder for a team looking to make a deep run in the postseason. Second, a semifinal win means an automatic berth into the region tournament and avoids the pressure of having to win a region-qualifier to keep the season alive.
And third, advancing to the district championship means a No. 1 or 2 seed entering the region tournament, greatly improving the chances to get past the first round of regional play.
Putting an end to Rugby’s losing trend in the semifinal round is again the goal as the Panthers enter this week’s District 11 Tournament in Drake.
This may be Rugby’s best opportunity in quite some time. The team enters the tournament as the No. 3 seed, but there isn’t much separation in terms of talent between the district’s top four seeds.
“That semifinal round could be a dandy,’ Brossart said of a potential Rugby/Bottineau and Velva/Westhope-Newburg match up. “Of course first things first, and we need to play well in that opening round to advance.”
Rugby will meet No. 6 Towner-Granville-Upham on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. The Panthers defeated the Titans twice this season, including a 30-point win just over a week ago. Brossart expects T-G-U to give a more spirited effort and said the team has some talented players.
The Titans head into the tournament with good memories. Last season the squad managed to win two games and advance to regional play for the first time since the T-G-U co-op was established.
Titan co-coach Wade Schock knows that first round game with Rugby will be a challenge, but the pressure is on the favored Panthers.
“We are not supposed to win that game,’ he said. “However, we’re going to play hard to give ourselves a chance (for the upset). It’s important to stay with them, hopefully go into that fourth quarter with the score close.”
The Titans will need to handle Rugby’s defensive pressure and limit second- and third-chance opportunities by getting to rebounds first.
Offensively, the squad has struggled this season and will need to be able to score 40 or more points to have a shot.
“In practice our players are knocking down shots, but we need to step up in the game,’ Schock said.
The Rugby-TGU winner will likely face Bottineau in one of the semifinals. And if it’s the Panthers, it will mark the fifth year in a row those teams have met in the semifinals. Bottineau has won the past four.
The key for a different outcome will be strong play on both ends of the floor and a better job handling the Stars’ full-court press. Rugby must also limit its turnovers and get two or three players in double figures since opponents will look to contain junior Crystal Hovland, the Panthers’ top scorer.
Bottineau has dominated the tournament for many years and is the defending champion, but the Stars are not the favorites this season.
Top seeded Westhope-Newburg gets that nod, however, Bottineau, Rugby and No. 4 Velva are quite capable of stringing together three good games and claiming the title.
That’s exactly what coach Brossart is looking for – three good games. “In the postseason, the difference is which team can put back-to-back-to-back games together. We hope this year we can.”
Other first round games this Thursday, Feb. 11 include No. 1 Westhope-Newburg vs. No. 8 Sawyer; No. 2 Bottineau vs. No. 7 Drake-Anamoose; and No. 4 Velva vs. No. 5 Dunseith.
Loser-out and semifinals will be played on Feb. 12. Two region- qualifying games and the championship will be played on Feb. 13.
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