Mar. 17—WINNER — As Winner enters the Class A boys basketball state tournament, it's not intimidated by having to play No. 2 Dakota Valley at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Sanford Premier Center.
The Warriors are the No. 7 seed, despite a 20-2 record, but they don't focus on the seeding. In coach Brett Gardner's eyes, the state tournament is an even field, one where every team needs to play their best basketball every night or be expected to be knocked into the consolation bracket.
"One thing we've talked about is once a state tournament comes around, they put a number in front of your name just so they know who matches up," Gardner said. "... Everybody's a 1-seed in our mind, or everybody's an 8-seed in our mind. We do have a lot of confidence, but we know we're going to have to play well if we want to compete with the good teams that are in front of us."
The high-scoring Panthers (21-2) present the first challenge, scoring 80 points per game, with the high-scoring brother duo of Paul Bruns (27.9 ppg/12.7 rpg/2.3 spg) and Isaac Bruns (22.8 ppg/6.3 rpg) combining for 50.7 points per contest. Paul Bruns is committed to play basketball at the University of North Dakota.
Dakota Valley has scored 88 or more points in seven games, including a pair of 100-point games.
Winner hopes to limit Dakota Valley's possessions by keeping them off the glass, limiting turnovers and forcing them baseline or into contested outside jumpers. The Warriors allow 10 turnovers per game, while Blake Volmer (9.4 rpg) leads the team in rebounding and is second in scoring at 13.8 points.
"After they do shoot it, it doesn't do you any good if they miss the shot but grab the offensive rebound and get a put-back," Gardner said. "We have to make sure after we contest their shot, we turn around, box out and secure the rebound."
If the Warriors are able to slow down the Bruns brothers, they have their own all-state guard in Brady Fritz averaging 26.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. The four-year starter shoots 51 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range, helping Winner average 65.6 points per game.
"He's one of those when the going gets tough, he wants the ball in his hands," Gardner said. "... When we need a bucket, Brady's the one we're going to go to. When we need a stop, Brady is going to defend."
The winner advances to the semifinals against either Sioux Valley or Chamberlain at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
"What you've done all year, you must continue to do in the postseason," Gardner said. "That's what we talked about a lot — don't change everything you've done just because you're playing in a different arena. You still do what got you to that point and fine tweak some things."