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Woodbury senior forward Ben Meyer and the Royals will take on rival East Ridge on Friday. (Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker)

Woodbury boys basketball: How far can momentum carry Royals?

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Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

Scott Swansson knew the stakes, so he presented his players with a challenge before they took the court against Mounds View.

“Are you contenders or are you pretenders?” the Woodbury boys basketball coach recalled asking the players.

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The Royals proved they were contenders in the game, beating the Mustangs 90-81 on Jan. 28 at home.

The pivotal game dislodged the teams from a then 8-3 Suburban East Conference record and moved Woodbury into sole possession of third place in the conference.

Woodbury stayed on its winning ways three days later, with a Jan. 31 home win over Hastings. The Royals’ record now stands at 14-7 (10-3 SEC) and leaves the team with a shot at the conference title.

Swansson said the Jan. 28 Mounds View game represented a key victory for the Royals – especially after he threw down the gauntlet.

“They stepped up to the plate,” he said of his players.

Last week’s play set the stage for what could be a nailbiter of a home stretch in the SEC.

Through last week, Woodbury stood 1.5 games back of conference leading Cretin-Derham Hall and a half-game back of East Ridge for second place.

The Royals and Raptors could trade places after Friday’s game when the two teams square off at East Ridge.

The Royals then play against Forest Lake on Feb. 11 then travel to St. Paul to take on seventh-ranked Cretin Derham-Hall. Games against Roseville and White Bear Lake cap the season.

Yet with three losses on the season, Woodbury would need a little luck in order to catch Cretin, even if they do beat the Raiders in the season finale.

That’s not out of the question.

Cretin faces a grinder of an end to the season. Left on Cretin’s schedule are East Ridge and Roseville – two of the SEC’s toughest teams who have both been ranked in the top 10 of Class 4A at different points in the season.

For their part, Swansson feels like the Royals heating up at just the right time.

“Everybody in the league knows that (Matt) Ambriz scores 27 points per game,” the coach said. “They set their defenses to try to take him away. If they do that, we’ve got four other guys that can take the ball to the basket and score.”

The Royals proved that last week.

Mounds View worked hard to bottle up Ambriz in the first half, though Woodbury built a 40-34 first half lead.

Swansson said Woodbury maintained the upper hand t by utilizing “a three-pronged attack” of seniors Isaiah Codden, Ben Rizzardi and Ambriz, who erupted for 19 second-half points.

Codden finished with 21 points, while Rizzardi added 20 for the Royals. Meanwhile, Reid Peters – starting in place of injured guard Nick Yan – turned in what Swansson called the senior’s best game of the years; he scored 15 points in the win.

In addition to keeping conference title hopes in play, Swansson noted that the Mounds View win helped boost Woodbury’s seeding for Section 4-4A tournament and the QRF rankings.

The Royals closed out the week with an 86-67 home win over Hastings. Ambriz led all scorers with 28 points and was one of four Royals to record double figures. Rizzardi, Charlie Olson and Codden scored 13, 11 and 10 points, respectively, against Hastings.

East Ridge is Woodbury’s sole opponent this week. The game tips off at the Perch at 7:15 p.m. Friday.

-Mike Longaecker

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