Girls Basketball: Willmar’s defense shutdowns Brainerd offense

Brainerd Warriors guard Myah Nelson looks for an open spot in the Willmar Cardinals' defense Thursday, Dec. 19, in Brainerd.

The half-court defense of the Willmar Cardinals held the Brainerd Warriors to 12 second-half points in Willmar’s 50-37 Central Lakes Conference win Thursday, Dec. 19, at Brainerd High School.

Cardinals head coach Dustin Carlson thought his team made key adjustments at halftime to suffocate Brainerd.

“I thought we did a better job of jumping to the ball,” Carlson said. “The kids who were playing defense on screeners helped us eliminate those cutters as well.”

Brainerd shot 13-of-39 from the field for the game, but managed only 20% shooting and four made field goals in the second half.

Guard Myah Nelson picked up a critical fourth foul for the Warriors with 14 minutes remaining and Brainerd up 34-32. From there it was all Willmar as the Warriors only scored three points and one field goal the rest of the way.


The two teams played to a 25-25 tie in the first half. Both teams were sloppy in the second half with a combined 18 turnovers.

The score was tied 34-34 for what seemed like forever, but the Cardinals closed out the Warriors on a 16-3 run highlighted by free throws.

“It was a tie game with about eight minutes left and I felt like they went on a two- or three-minute stretch where we did not get the defensive rebounds and they got some easy putbacks,” Warriors head coach Troy Nelson said. “They are known for their half-court defense and we could not get anything going.”

Willmar’s Mackenzie Jones led all scorers with 20 points. She converted 6-of-7 from the foul line in the second half. She also nailed two 3-pointers in the first half.

“She does a lot for us,” Carlson said. “She shoots the ball when she is open which we encourage all of our girls to do, but she really takes it to heart and she’s a good shooter. She is tough off the dribble, too, because she is a willing passer and can score. She’s just a tough kid overall.”

Myah Nelson led the Warriors with 16 points. She nailed back-to-back 3s in the first half to give the Warriors a 20-18 lead.

“Her knocking those down really got us in a flow in that first half,” Troy Nelson said.

But it was Jones who scored four of the last seven points for the Cardinals to tie the game at half.


No other Brainerd player scored in double figures.

Willmar was able to figure out the Warriors 1-3-1 zone as the game progressed. They found forward Madi Linbo on a few back cuts behind the zone that fueled the second-half run.

“We harped on getting those diagonal passes in that zone from top to bottom,” Carlson said of attacking the zone. “Our girls started hitting some cutters and getting to the basket without having to dribble as much.”

The win came at a good time for Willmar as they move ahead of Brainerd in the Central Lakes Conference standings.

“It’s a huge confidence builder for us,” Carlson said. “We knew (Brainerd) was tough and we don’t always see 1-3-1. So this was a huge confidence builder because we know we have to play well to beat them.”

Ten second-half turnovers crippled the Warriors offensively. When Myah Nelson went out with her fourth foul the Warriors did not have their backup ballhandler Kate Stadum who was out with the flu.

Brainerd gets its chance to rest and heal for the holidays before playing at home against section foe, Maple Grove, Friday, Dec. 27, a challenge Nelson is anticipating.

“We are giving them a 3-day weekend because we have a lot of kids who are not feeling that well,” Troy Nelson said. “I think our motion offense is starting to look better and we are starting to have better spacing which is one of our focuses every day in practice. Then we got to continue to play good defense and rebound.”


For more photos, go to .

Willmar 25 25 -- 50
Brainerd 25 12 -- 37

Sam Christoffer 3, Amber Evink 2, Katelyn Murphy 5, Mackenzie Jones 20, Sadie Raitz 2, Callie Slagter 2, Madi Linbo 10, Ashley Prahl 6. FG 17-42 (40%), FT 11-20 (55%). 3-point 3-14 (21%).

Myah Nelson 16, Autumn Miles 3, Meghan Smith 2, Ally Brzezinski 2, Olivia Tautges 2, Delaney Schaeffer 2, Grace Zimmerman 4, Erika Lane 6. FG 13-39 (33%), FT 5-9 (55%). 3-point 6-16 (38%).

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or Follow on Twitter at

Willmar 50, Warriors 37


Key: Willmar holds Brainerd to 12 second-half points and Mackenzie Jones leads all scorers with 20 for the Cardinals.

Conference: Brd 4-2, W 5-2.

Overall: Brd 4-4, W 5-4.

Next: hosts Maple Grove 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27.

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