FAIRBANKS — The Winona State Warriors proved they were the class of the 2012 Mt. McKinley Bank North Star Invitational women’s basketball tournament Saturday night at the Patty Center.
The Warriors from Minnesota played a near flawless first half in taking a 38-17 lead and stretched the margin to 30 points (61-31) in the second half before settling for a 67-50 victory against the Alaska Nanooks in the final game of the three-day, round-robin tournament.
“It was a good bonding experience,” Winona State coach Scott Ballard said after the tournament’s awards ceremony. “We learned a lot about ourselves as a team that is still trying to adjust to losing two post players for the season.”
The Warriors finished the tournament with a 3-0 record after defeating the Anderson Trojans 61-46 on Thanksgiving night and the Upper Iowa Peacocks 70-40 on Friday.
Anderson finished in second place with a 2-1 tournament record after posting a thrilling 64-62 triumph against Upper Iowa earlier Saturday. Upper Iowa was third at 1-2.
Winona State guard Becca Friestleben earned the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award, while teammates Katie Wolff and Michelle Tobin made the all-tournament team. Other all-tournament selections were Anderson’s Alissa Diaz, Upper Iowa’s Whitney Kieffer and Alaska’s Taylor Altenburg.
Even though the Nanooks finished the tournament with an 0-3 record and dropped to 0-6 on the e season, Nanooks’ coach Cody Burgess was upbeat after talking to her troops following the awards ceremony.
“We won the second half,” Burgess exclaimed after emerging from the Nanooks locker room.
Indeed, the Nanooks turned into a firestorm of hustle in the final 10 minutes, going on a 19-0 run at one point and closing the 61-31 deficit to 61-48.
Switching from a 3/4-court contain press to an aggressive full court press enabled the Nanooks to hold the Warriors scoreless for 8 minutes and 16 seconds. Alaska reeled off 19 straight points and it could have been more had a couple of more shots fallen through the hoop.
“I think all that energy from the press helped spark our offense,” Burgess said. “I’m really proud of the girls for holding that team to under 30 points in the second half. That’s a huge improvement for us.”
The Nanooks outscored the Warriors 33-29 in the final 20 minutes.
“When we play like that, it gives us a good chance to evaluate what we can and can’t do,” Burgess said. “I think we can play like that (for the entire game) if we can get 10 people on the same page.”
Altenburg led the Nanooks with 12 points, while April Fultz added 10 points and nine rebounds and Ruth O’Neal chipped in seven points and eight rebounds.
A big difference in the game was 3-point shooting as the Nanooks were just 3 for 15 from beyond the arc, while the Warriors connected on 11 of 21 attempts.
Friestleben and Wolff each delivered 17 points for the Warriors. Wolff was 4 for 7 from 3-point range and Friestleben was 5 for 8. Tobin and Kelsey Andrist added 10 points apiece for the winners.. Tobin led the Warriors with eight rebounds.
The Nanooks return to the court Saturday in Anchorage when they take on the intrastate rival Alaska Anchorage Seawolves in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
“I think this tournament was a great experience for us to get ready for Anchorage and the rest of our conference games,” Burgess said.
Tilde Ahlin tipped in an inbounds pass from midcourt by Diaz to give Anderson its second tournament win and the second-place trophy.
Upper Iowa had rallied from a 10-point deficit with 7:10 to play to tie the score at 62 with 48 seconds left. After both teams missed the chance to take the lead, Diaz’s inbounds pass to Ahlin produced the winning score.
Diaz finished with 19 points and two assists. Lesley Woods added nine points for the winners and Ahlin finished with eight points and five assists. Breonda Shannon led the Trojans with seven rebounds.
Jennifer Herrick led Upper Iowa with 18 points, while Kieffer had 11 and Carly Pagel tallied 10 and grabbed seven rebounds.
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7581.