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Woodbury boys basketball: Royals gain No. 1 seed in sections

Senior Matt Ambriz drives the baseline last week at Woodbury’s senior night game against Roseville. The standout guard left the game with an ankle injury, but could be back in time for this week’s Section 4AAAA tournament, coach Scott Swansson said. (Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker)

A strong end to the regular season last week propelled the Royals to the top seed in this week’s section playoffs.

Though the seeding theoretically gives Woodbury a better shot at advancing through the tournament, it isn’t anything to gloat about for Scott Swansson.

The Woodbury head coach said the parity in Section 4-4A is so strong that even the No. 1 seed doesn’t hold much of an upper hand.

“We could win all of them or we could be out in the first round,” Swansson said. “Every game’s going to be a battle. I’m not looking ahead to anything right now.”

Take Woodbury’s first-round opponent – North St. Paul – for example. Swansson noted that North beat Classic Suburban Conference champions St. Thomas Academy during the regular season and recently put a scare into fellow Section 4-4A foe Tartan.

“They’re probably playing the best they’ve played all season right now,” he said of the Polars.

Adding to the tenuous nature of this year’s playoffs for Woodbury is the status of standout shooting guard Matt Ambriz. The senior, who is averaging 25.8 points per game, left the Feb. 18 game against Roseville with an ankle injury.

The injury, which Swansson described as a sprain, left Ambriz sidelined in the regular season finale against White Bear Lake.

But the coach said Ambriz is hoping to play in Wednesday’s game against North.

“We’ll see,” Swansson said.

Without him, things become trickier. Swansson said teams tend to focus hard on Ambriz, which creates gaps for other Woodbury players to develop scoring opportunities.

That, and “it always hurts when you take 26 or 27 points out of your lineup,” he said, referring to Ambriz’s season average.

The Royals pulled out the regular season finale with an Ambriz-less road win, but it was close.

The Bears claimed a 45-36 halftime lead and led by 11 points with six minutes left in the second half. Swansson said his Royals’ ability to clamp down on defense in the closing minutes made the difference in Woodbury’s 71-68 win.

He also credited senior forward Isaiah Coddon’s performance. Coddon led the Woodbury scoring attack with 20 points against White Bear Lake.

“He decided to crank up his game a little bit,” Swansson said.

Coddon also cranked it up in the Feb. 18 home win over Roseville.

The Royals won 96-76 over the Raiders on senior night. Senior center Ben Rizzardi led all scorers with 24 points, while Coddon added 22 points for Woodbury. Ambriz finished with 15 points before leaving with 10 minutes left in the second half.

Woodbury’s first playoff game tips off at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, in a home game against eighth-seeded North St. Paul (10-16).

If the Royals win, they advance to the semifinals against either No. 4-seeded Roseville or No. 5-seeded Stillwater. The semifinal game will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday at East Ridge.

The section championship game is 8 p.m., Wednesday, March 5.

-Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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