No. 2 Sabers outlast No. 5 Panthers 68-62

Despite a second half comeback, The Lakeville North girls’ basketball team couldn’t come away with a victory against Shakopee.

Lakeville North changed its status from pretender to contender on Friday.

After the Panthers’ girls’ basketball team started off the season 5-0, a season of promise took a hit when Lakeville North lost to Eastview 81-52 on Dec. 15. The loss to the Lightning showed the Panthers weren’t among the top in the state quite yet despite a strong record.

That changed, however, against Shakopee.

The No. 2-4A Sabers defeated No. 5-4A Lakeville North 68-62 on Friday at Shakopee High School, but the Panthers showed their No. 5 ranking was warranted.

It may only be a moral victory, but it was a necessary step if Lakeville North (10-2) is to find success come late February.

“(My players) realized how good they are and how good they can be,” Lakeville North coach Shelly Clemons said.

And unlike the Eastview game, Clemons’ players walked away with a sense of confidence in their play.

“It gives us a boost to show we can compete, and I think we are going to keep competing as hard as we did tonight,” Temi Carda said.

The Panthers didn’t come out competing strong, though.

Unconfident and disorganized play from Lakeville North led to an early 11-2 lead for the Sabers. Taylor Koenen, a senior guard and North Carolina commit, helped Shakopee start strong with seven points in the first four minutes of the game.

“We came out a little timid,” Carda said. “We looked at them as No. 2 in the state. After that, we realized we could play with them and compete with them.”

And compete with them the Panthers did. Lakeville North closed the gap to 19-15 with 8:51 left in the first half, but the Sabers began to pull away before halftime. Shakopee lead the Panthers by 12 during the break.

During halftime, Clemons told her team how many expected the Panthers to get “blown out” by the Sabers. Carda said hearing this motivated Lakeville North even more.

“It kind of punched us in the gut,” Carda said. “It gave us the anger to prove even our own coach wrong and prove to her and everyone else who was watching that we could play with (Shakopee).”

The Panthers eventually took the lead for the first time with 8:14 left in regulation, going up 49-47 with a score from Sarah Krynski.

Shakopee coach Juan Mitchell was glad to be in a close game because it is something the Sabers haven’t had all season.

“It is the first time we had some adversity, which is good for us because thus far, the season has been pretty smooth,” Mitchell said. “Playing a quality team like Lakeville North, it was nice to play.”

The Sabers’ endurance hasn’t been tested in the way it was on Friday. Koenen scored 16 points in the first half, but was held to one basket for most of the second. She also looked notably exhausted with her hands often on her knees while she struggled to catch her breath.

“In the second half, we start to wear people down, and I think she got a little tired,” Clemons said. “Olivia Bruce did a great job on her.”

Although the Panthers gave the Sabers a late-game scare, Clemons said mental lapses on Lakeville North’s part gave Shakopee the victory in the final minutes.

Both Carda and Clemons saw the close loss as a step forward for the Panthers. But they both realize state championships aren’t won in early January.

“We don’t want to be peaking right now,” Clemons said. “We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of February going into March.”