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GIRLS' BASKETBALL: Worthington set for battle of Trojans

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Worthington's Martha Alwal shoots over a pair of New Ulm defenders during the first round of the Section 2AAA girls' basketball tournament in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington's girls' basketball team will enter the Class AAA tournament opener at 10 a.m. Wednesday in an unfamiliar position.

For the first time this season, Worthington will be the underdog.

Worthington received the No. 8 seed in the state tournament and will face the top-seeded New Prague Trojans in the first round at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.

Worthington is embracing the new role.

"We're not really used to being the underdog, but we kind of like it because we really have nothing to lose," junior guard Gabby Boever said. "And it's always fun to upset a team and show everyone who doubted us that we could actually do it."

New Prague started the season ranked No. 1 in Class AAA. Totino-Grace took over the top spot for three consecutive weeks midway through the season, but New Prague finished the season ranked No. 1 in the finals two polls.

Worthington, which was ranked No. 3 in the first poll, was ranked second behind New Prague for three consecutive weeks in January. In the Jan. 28 poll, Worthington was ranked second and New Prague third.

New Prague, Totino-Grace, Minnehaha Academy and Minneapolis North received the top four seeds in the Class AAA tournament, and their opponents were determined by a blind draw.

Worthington, which finished the season ranked No. 8, was matched up against New Prague.

The unfortunate draw didn't seem to bother Worthington coach Eric Lindner, who said a championship team will have to beat the best at some point in order to be the best.

"Why not take them now?" he said. "You have to be that way; you can't say anything else. No matter what we say, no matter what we talk about, we still have them. We talked about the NCAA tournaments (Monday), and anytime you're the No. 1 seed, you have a target on your back. They have to prove it. If we beat them, they're going to consider it an upset. But we're coming in thinking we need to do the things we need to do in our game."

Worthington will have to do those things without Rachel Malmgren, a key substitute who normally was the team's first player off the bench.

The junior forward suffered a knee injury Thursday in Worthington's 54-31 victory over Willmar in the Section 2AAA championship game. Her MRI on Monday revealed torn cartilage, a torn MCL and a possible tear in the ACL. She will miss the rest of the season.

"It's huge," Boever said. "Now we don't have our sixth man off the bench, who gave us quite a few minutes, so the younger people have to step it up and kind of show us what they have now that Rachel is gone."

Kristen Andersen, a freshman center, likely will see her playing time increase as a result of Malmgren's injury.

"(Rachel) will use this to help motivate the other kids, like, 'Hey, I can't be out there; you need to get it done,'" Lindner said. "And that's what teammates should do. And we all feel bad for her, and I know Rachel wants them to put that aside and go out and play their hearts out."

Wednesday's matchup will feature two teams with contrasting styles.

Offensively, New Prague likes to slow the tempo and run its offensive through its post players, who like to work from the perimeter. Defensively, it utilizes full-court presses and traps.

New Prague is averaging 64.6 points per game and has scored 70 points or more eight times this season. It is allowing 43 points per game and has held opponents to 50 points or fewer 18 times, while allowing 60 points or more twice.

Worthington, on the other hand, normally plays with four guards on the floor and utilizes an up-tempo attack.

Worthington is averaging 73.3 points per game and has scored 70 points or more 16 times this season. It is allowing 52 points per game and has allowed 60 points or more seven times.

"They are going to have to contend with our quickness, and we're going to have to content with their height," Lindner said. "Full-court, half-court -- they trap everywhere. I think that's something that will work in our favor. But we have to stay out of foul trouble, and we have to attack the basket. If we get timid, that won't be good for us. We're going to have to keep that confidence and attack the basket the whole game. We can't let up; we just have to keep going right after them."

New Prague, which is making its seventh tournament appearance, is returning after a one-year absence. It received the No. 4 seed in 2007 and lost in the first round to fifth-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret's.

Worthington also is making its seventh trip and returning after a one-year absence. In 2007, it lost in the first round to top-seeded Becker, which went on to win the Class AAA title.

The circumstances are similar this year, but Lindner hopes the results are different.

"Everybody is expecting (New Prague) to win, but we have 15 kids who think differently, and that's the important thing," he said. "When they step on the floor, they'll be ready. This is it; this is what you want; this is the pinnacle of the sport; you're at the tournament and now you have to prove you belong there. I'm not going there to be one and done; I'm going there to win the state title. I'm not just happy with being there, and I think the girls are that way."