A year-and-a-half ago we (Northstar Girls Hoops) picked Robbinsdale Cooper as our Team of the Week. Coach Kiara Buford thanked us, saying, “Our kids haven’t gotten a lot of recognition.” Well, that was then. This is now. And, now, Cooper…
A year-and-a-half ago we (Northstar Girls Hoops) picked Robbinsdale Cooper as our Team of the Week. Coach Kiara Buford thanked us, saying, “Our kids haven’t gotten a lot of recognition.” Well, that was then. This is now. And, now, Cooper and coach Buford have earned plenty of recognition as the state champion in Class AAA.
They did it with a thorough stifling of Northfield’s offense in a 49-37 win at Target Center Saturday night. The held the Raiders to 31 percent shooting, forced 20 turnovers (while committing only 9 themselves and racking up an insurmountable 17-2 edge in points off turnovers), and somehow even managed to outscore Northfield in the paint, 28-16. Cooper simply dominated all facets of the game.
Well, except they shot even more poorly than Northfield at 28 percent, and that allowed the Raiders to stay close—down 20-18 at the half after a Grace Touchette bucket at the buzzer, and just 26-25 after an Annalee Olson-Sola basket at 12:05. But then they went cold and by the time they scored again, Cooper had a 35-25 lead, the last 5 coming on a 3 and a pair of throws by freshman guard Andrea Tribble. With those 35 points, they had almost enough points to win the game with 8:55 still to go.
In fact, they got their 37th and 39th points on a pair of Aja Wheeler buckets—one of them, improbably enough, off an offensive board—at 5:24 and 4:27. And, now, they had enough points to win because Northfield shot 29 percent and made just 5 FG in the 2nd half, and could muster just 37 points on the night. Cooper did that with a 3 and sometimes 4-guard lineup of quick, quicker and quickest that never allowed Northfield to get comfortable in their offensive sets, and forced them to hurry their shots all night long.
Still, Touchette was terrific for the Raiders, finishing with 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Unfortunately, her teammates could muster only 6 FG on 27 attempts, and only 6-3 senior post Annika Hoff would also score more than one bucket or 2 points.
Meanwhile, Aja Wheeler and J’Hyia Gaston were doing it on both ends of the court, harassing the Northfield offense unmercifully while scoring 25 points on 8-of-21 shooting. But the real secret to the Cooper offense was that they simply got off 15 more shots than Northfield and thus were able to score 3 more FG. They also outscored the Raiders from the line 15-8 as Northfield missed more FT than they made.
Hoff had 14 rebounds for the much taller Raiders, but Kierra Wheeler had 12 and kept the Hawks close in that category. And, so, it was turnovers and points off turnovers that really earned the Hawks their long-awaited recognition as not just a solid ball club but as state champions.
Aja Wheeler, Cooper, 5-7, junior, combo guard. Wheeler had a wonderful game on both ends of the floor, but especially on defense, where she and Gaston and T.T. Longs harassed the Northfield offense unmercifully and Wheeler, specifically, stripped the Raiders of the ball 7 times. She led Cooper scorers with 15 points just for good measure.
Kierra Wheeler, Cooper, 5-10, freshman, forward. It was the turnovers that were decisive, but Kierra Wheeler, Aja’s big but younger sister, kept Northfield’s size and rebounding prowess from becoming a big deal itself. Wheeler grabbed 12 rebounds, including 6 on the offensive end, and helped Cooper to a 39-39 draw with the bigger Raiders in that category.
Grace Touchette, Northfield, 5-8, senior, point guard. Cooper made Touchette work incredibly hard just to get an open look, and just to maintain control of the ball. But Touchette did those things, making 7-of-15 shots to lead all scorers and keeping her turnovers to just 4 while handling the ball, it seemed, for, well, pretty much the entire half of 36 minutes when her team had the ball.
And she did it while persevering through some pretty rough stuff. At one point, Cooper guard Ja’Hyia Gaston went for a steal, but instead flattened Touchette near half-court. She stood over the prone Touchette and appeared to taunt her, drawing a technical foul. She then stepped over Touchette and her shoe appeared to come in contact with Touchette’s head. In keeping with the MSHSL’s statement about sportsmanship that is read aloud before every game, Gaston should have had a seat on the bench the rest of the way but neither the officials nor coach Buford saw fit to make the tough call. But with recognition comes accountability.