At this time last year, the Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders began their season with an impressive weekend of basketball at the St. Thomas Thanksgiving Tip-off, sparking an outstanding start to a season that would eventually culminate in a share of the…
At this time last year, the Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders began their season with an impressive weekend of basketball at the St. Thomas Thanksgiving Tip-off, sparking an outstanding start to a season that would eventually culminate in a share of the Suburban East Conference championship. 4A Cretin did the same thing yesterday, putting together an impressive 67-51 victory over 2A Rochester Lourdes thanks to a defensive strategy designed to minimize the enormous impact that sophomore Alyssa Ustby can have on a basketball game. It worked. And at the other end of the floor, Cretin junior Frannie Hottinger put together a first-half highlight film that staked the Raiders to an 11-point lead they would never relinquish.
When it was all over, Cretin coach Joe Lynch had plenty of nice things to say about his team, but he saved his highest praise for the Raider whose primary assignment was to shadow Ustby: Haley Moore. “She played a whale of a game,” Lynch said of his 6'1″ senior forward. “Haley did a fantastic job of staying with her, of staying between her and the basket, boxing her out, not letting her get started. We really tried to make someone else on their team beat us. I think we did a good job of that.”
Ustby is ranked 7th in the Class of 2020 and rising, and she is a handful for defenders everywhere. To say she is long is a gross understatement. She is really long and really athletic and can be a nightmare to defend. Ustby doesn't really have a position. She is a great point guard, a skilled shooter, can play the power forward role… well basically she can do whatever you ask of her. Except on this night the Raiders didn't let her do quite as much as usual. Ustby still finished with 14 points and was Lourdes' best player. Senior long-baller Wynter Bergner led Lourdes in scoring with 21.
Hottinger, the 16th-ranked player in the Class of 2019, is similar to Ustby in many ways, but with a lot more of the power forward mentality hard-wired into the package. Frannie's first-half performance Friday was a stunner. She opened the game with a steal and score in the first 10 seconds. She scored outside. She scored inside. And she pounded the boards. “What a motor!” Lynch exclaimed after Hottinger's 18-point performance. “I mean, the kid doesn't know the meaning of the word 'stop.' She just goes hard all the time. She gets all the rebounds, she gets all the put-backs, and she scored some nice baskets in transition tonight.”
Cretin scored four straight buckets to establish a quick 9-0 lead. Despite early foul trouble for Autam Mendez – she had three in the first 8 minutes – CDH just kept rolling. Hottinger had a flurry of baskets in the final moments of the first half, after which the Raiders were up 35-24. In the second, it was more of the same and by the midway point Cretin was ahead by 20. Mendez had a great night, at one point stealing and scoring on three possessions in a row to finish with 13 points. Elizabeth Edinger, who missed much of summer ball due to illness, looked terrific and had 13 herself. Guard Justyna Butler made great contributions off the bench.
Overall, it was just the sort of start CDH was looking for, but last year's mid-season swoon still hangs over the room like stale smoke. I asked Lynch if he was concerned about facing a smaller school in the opener, the kind of game where the bigger school has nothing to gain and a whole lot to lose. “I think we were pretty relaxed going into the game,” Lynch said. “This year, it's just about us, about our team chemistry. We're just trying to focus on what we do, on what we can control. Last year, as everybody has been saying, we kind of lost our way a little, so we're just trying to stay the course. We were really not worried so much about who they are and what they are doing. We're really just trying to focus on who we are and what we're trying to do.”
Dowling Catholic 62 Holy Angels 41
Entering any game that includes the Stars from Holy Angels, the conversation usually centers around big post Destinee Oberg, but the 6'2″ behemoth has been out of the headlines, of late, thanks to a summer marked by injuries. Instead, the pre-game chatter Friday was all about 5'11″ guard Caitlin Clark of West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, the player ESPN claims is #1 in the Class of 2020. Folks around here might quibble about that, especially since Hopkins' Paige Bueckers (Clark's Team USA mate) is in the same class, but whatever. Clark is a heckuva player. She's no stranger to the Twin Cities, having been here often with the AAU All Iowa Attack, but it was her first visit for a high school game. She did not disappoint.
Clark started a little slowly in the last of the day's seven games. Holy Angels jumped out to an early 8-2 lead as Clark missed on a wide-open three and clanked a pair of free throw attempts. Once she got her bearings – thanks mostly to a three-point bank shot from distance that turned into a 4-point and-1 – Clark was unstoppable. Stars veteran Riley Thalhuber certainly tried, but her intensity was squelched by three quick fouls leaving Holy Angels looking for a Plan B. They never did find it. Clark scored on a pretty floater with an and-1 cherry on top to give Dowling a 12-11 lead. The Maroons never trailed again. Oberg did finish with 17 points and played the best we have seen from her in a long time. Alex Walker and Frankie Vascellaro had 6 points each for Holy Angels while Kaylie Van der Werf managed just 4. The final score was 62-41 for the team from Iowa.
As for Clark, well she pretty much did it all, including putting up 25 points. She is an outstanding game manager with a super-high basketball IQ. Much like Bueckers, she always seems to put the ball in the right place at the right time. As Paige pointed out from courtside, Caitlin makes the difficult stuff look really, really easy. Her jumper is a thing of beauty and her range is endless. She has offers from Iowa, Texas, Iowa State, Michigan State and more. Clark and her crew from West Des Moines will now face Cretin on Saturday afternoon. “We've definitely got our work cut out for us,” Lynch said.