Woodbury basketball: Royals seeking state berth tonight
The Royals are knocking on the door again.
Woodbury, buoyed by Renard Suggs' 38 points, put itself one game from the state basketball tournament Saturday, March 9, with a 91-85 win over Mahtomedi at East Ridge High School.
The Section 4AAAA semifinal win sets the table for a rubber-match game against Stillwater at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, in the section championship.
Stillwater gained the section championship game on Saturday by upsetting No. 1-seeded Roseville. That Stillwater won didn't stir warm fuzzies in Woodbury coach Scott Swansson.
"I didn't know I wanted to play," he said of the two teams. "They're both good. They both give us tough match-ups."
And they've both beaten Woodbury once this season. The Royals edged the Ponies in a Feb. 8 road game after falling to them at home 88-71 in January.
For the moment, though, Swansson was willing to bask in the glow of the win over Mahtomedi.
"It's huge," he said of the win. "There's just 16 teams left (in Class 4A)."
The No. 2-seeded Royals (23-4), who led 51-43 at the half and extended their lead to 10 in the second half, fended off a spirited Mahtomedi attack late in the game; the Zephyrs grabbed a brief lead at 66-64 with about eight minutes left.
Senior forward Zach Lindquist, a bruising inside presence, turned in a dominating 35-point performance for Mahtomedi.
Woodbury came right back and reclaimed the lead behind clutch 3-point shooting by junior Matt Ambriz and Suggs.
Mahtomedi, the No. 6 seed, kept the game to a three-point deficit with less than a minute to play, but late free-throw buckets by Woodbury's Rob Claypool and Suggs extended the lead to a two-possession contest the Zephyrs couldn't overcome as the final 15 seconds expired.
Swansson said it has been the ability to sink critical free throws that has separated this year's team from the 2011-12 squad, which often struggled to put away games from the line.
"They're big," he said of this year's clutch free throws. "Last year, that was our nemesis, our Achilles heel."
Suggs was seemingly everywhere in the Mahtomedi game, draining deep balls, driving to the hole and on transition plays.
"It was a good night for him," Swansson said of Suggs.
Ambriz also turned in a notable performance, with 21 points against the Zephyrs. Seniors Rob Claypool and Mario Franco scored 12 and 10 for Woodbury, respectfully.
Swansson said his Royals gained the edge by forcing turnovers and converting transition buckets.
"When we start playing like that, we're pretty hard to beat," he said. "When we do things right - use our athleticism and quickness - we make it hard on the other team."
The No. 6-seeded Zephyrs beat third-seeded Tartan 69-55 Wednesday, March 6, to reach the semifinals.
Woodbury reached the semifinals with an opening-round win over Mounds View.
Led by junior guard Ambriz's 22 points, the Royals beat the No. 7-seeded Mustangs 83-63 on Wednesday. Woodbury seniors Diallo Powell, Suggs Mario Franco recorded 15, 11 and 10 points against Mounds View, respectively.
If there's one thing the section championship likely won't hold, it's surprises. The Ponies, a fellow Suburban East Conference team that compiled a 20-6 regular season record, are well known to Swansson.
The Ponies gave Woodbury fits in the January contest, where they used a size advantage to control rebounds and a pace of play that kept Woodbury on its heels on their way to an 88-71 win.
Woodbury managed to eke past Stillwater in the second SEC pairing, winning 56-55 on the road.
So what will it take to win one more time this year against the Ponies?
"It's going to take a great effort," Swansson said.