Gallery: No. 1 NRHEG rides strong 2nd half past Albert Lea

Published 9:52 pm Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fran Eckstrom, left and Lamanda Johnson of Albert Lea attempt to box out NRHEG's Kelli Harrington Saturday in Albert Lea. — Drew Claussen/Albert Lea Tribune

Fran Eckstrom, left and Lamanda Johnson of Albert Lea attempt to box out NRHEG’s Kelli Harrington Saturday in Albert Lea. — Drew Claussen/Albert Lea Tribune

Cold shooting by the NRHEG girls’ basketball team and solid defense from Albert Lea kept the No. 1 team in Class AA on its heels in the first half on Tuesday.

However, NRHEG outscored the Tigers by 17 points in the second half to win 82-57.

The Panthers’ potent half-court trap can fuel steals that lead to easy baskets in transition. Albert Lea head coach Lindsey Hugstad-Vaa said she was proud of her veteran guards for avoiding turnovers.

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“They were trying to pressure us and trap up top,” she said. “But our guards are really patient, we got it to our other players, and we hit some big shots.”

That composure put the clamps on NRHEG’s transition game early.

“We knew that their game plan was to get out and go, so we did a good job of getting our guards back on defense,” Hugstad-Vaa said. “They didn’t get a lot of fast-break layups, so I was happy with that.”

Frigid shooting from the field with scarce transition scoring didn’t help the Panthers’ case in the first half.

“We just couldn’t hit a shot,” said NRHEG head coach John Schultz. “Sometimes that gets contagious, and our timing offensively was off.”

However, the Panthers led the majority of the first half. Albert Lea had an 8-7 lead after a basket in the paint by Megan Kortan and trailed 17-16 when Kortan struck again in transition. NRHEG got back on track by ending the first half with a 17-11 run to take a seven-point lead at halftime.

In the second half, the Tigers kept their deficit under 10 points until Carlie Wagner nailed a 3-pointer the 14-minute mark.

“In practice, that (our halfcourt set) is what we work on,” said NRHEG head coach John Schultz.

From there, the lead ballooned to more than 20 points.

“People started hitting their shots and we started moving the ball,” Wagner said. “I thought we controlled our fouls a lot more in the second half and hit the glass hard.”

Wagner scored a game-high 42 points and the Panthers got huge contributions from Jade Schultz and Paige Overgaard. Both players had double-doubles in scoring and rebounding.

Albert Lea was led offensively by Megan Kortan’s 24 points. She shot 42 percent from behind the arc and hit a game-high five 3-pointers. Bryn Woodside added 18 points, but she shined most while shadowing Wagner on defense.

“Bryn did a great job on her,” Hugstad-Vaa said. “She (Wagner) is so physical and quick. She (Woodside) stayed on her the whole game and didn’t get a break.”

The gym was full with security on site.

“We like the big crowd,” Wagner said. “It’s a fun environment to play in.”

Next, Albert Lea (5-10 overall, 3-7 Big Nine Conference) hosts Faribault at 7:30 p.m. tonight. NRHEG (18-0 overall, 9-0 Gopher Conference) plays at Maple River at 7:15 p.m. tonight.

A full story with statistics in the Scoreboard: Jan. 30 post will follow.