There’s no question what Alexandria head coach Wendy Kohler thought was the primary reason behind Fergus Falls being able to pull away from her team in the second half of a 68-53 win for the second-ranked Otters last night.
Alexandria trailed by just one at the break on the back of 14 free throws on 17 attempts. The Cardinals got to the line 14 times in the second half but converted just five of those as the Otters slowly pulled away.
“We didn’t do anything different in the second half than we did in the first half,” Kohler said. “We got the ball where we wanted to get the ball, we just didn’t convert on the free throws. That really was the story of the game.”
Those misses from the line really hurt early in the second when Alexandria was still within single digits. The Cardinals missed five straight at one point, and the Otters took advantage on the other end, taking a 59-46 lead behind eight points from Brianna Rasmussen. Alex knows it can’t miss opportunities like that if it wants to beat a team like Fergus Falls.
“You have to do that against anybody,” Kohler said. “You get the ball where you want it to go, you need to make your free throws…we just really need to lock in and knock them down. We’re a good free throw shooting team.”
Kohler didn’t think the pressure of the situation got to her players. Fans packed the Jefferson High School gymnasium to make what felt like a playoff atmosphere last night. The student section was especially rowdy in anticipation of an upset.
The Cardinals fed off that energy in the first half. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead behind a steal and a layup from Lauren Trumm and held that lead for much of the half.
“It’s great to be a part of something special,” Kohler said. “These kids are a part of a special program that has had a lot of success. These athletes and these kids have made that success for us…They have a tremendous work ethic and the fans come out to watch them play. The community was just awesome tonight.”
The Otters never looked fazed, though. Fergus Falls kept from falling too far behind on the back of a couple big threes from Rasmussen and Sydney Schultz. That kept them close before Anna Monke gave the Otters their first lead since the opening minute on a putback that made it 19-18.
The two teams went back and forth the rest of the first half. Amanda Christianson converted a bucket and a foul after the Otters had stretched the lead to three, and Kalli Bowser hit two free throws in the final minute to make it a 34-33 game at the break. Bowser and Christianson both had seven in the first half and Trumm led with 14. Their ability to stick with the Otters through the first 18 minutes gave this team confidence that it can play with them if they meet again.
“I think our girls know that they can do it,” Kohler said. “They know they can step up and make free throws. They know they can execute a game plan…we have a few tricks up our sleeves that we’re saving for the playoffs. We didn’t show all our cards, so to speak, tonight. We have some definite adjustments that we’ll be making to try to take away some of their strengths.”
If they meet again, it will come in the section title game at Moorhead State on March 9. The Otters are the top seed in the North subsection and Alexandria holds the same spot in the South. If it works out that both teams meet in a couple weeks, Alexandria will be ready.
“We consider ourselves a good team,” Kohler said. “And it’s tough to beat a good team three times. We just told the girls, ‘They can have this win tonight.’ We’re just going to take care of business. Everyone’s 0-0 right now, and we just got to get ourselves in position to get another crack at them.”