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Kernels focus on defense ahead of Round of 16 showdown

Mitchell's Mandy Schmidt (10) brings the ball up court as Watertown's Annie Norberg (10) defends during a game on Thursday night at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

It's do-or-die time for the Mitchell High School girls basketball team.

The 12th-seeded Kernels (7-13) will take on the fifth-seeded Brandon Valley Lynx (13-7) in a Round of 16 playoff game at 7 p.m. today in Brandon. The winner will advance to the Class AA state tournament, while the loser's season ends.

MHS head coach Wes Morgan said he's liked the new playoff format for Class AA thus far compared to the old district qualifying.

"It's been a different deal from the beginning of the season. It came down to the last two games of the year to see where seed points were going to put you," Morgan said. "That's kind of been fun, trying to figure out who we'll be playing."

The Round of 16 bracket was set on Monday and Morgan added the Kernels can benefit from having played the Lynx twice this season. Mitchell dropped both contests to Brandon Valley by 11 points—54-43 on Jan. 13 in Brandon at 55-44 on Jan. 23 at the Corn Palace.

"I think we are playing pretty well at times," Morgan said. "We've morphed into something different than when we played them before."

Heading into today's game, Mitchell is 1-5 in its last six games, but the one win came against No. 6 seed Harrisburg (48-42 on Feb. 12). The Kernels are averaging 46.3 points per game and allowing an average of 49.8 points per game. In Mitchell's seven wins, the Kernels held opponents to fewer than 50 points.

"Our full-court pressure has to be a factor in the game," Morgan said. "We have to play. We have to turn that defense into some offense and we have to be aggressive while doing it."

Offensively, Mackenzie Miller leads the Kernels with an average of 10.7 points per game, while Tayler Factor averages 7.8 points and Jordyn Cranny averages 6.2 points. Morgan said Mitchell needs to shoot better from the outside and protect the ball better against Brandon Valley.

"If we do both of those things, it's a lot closer game. We can tilt the game in our favor if we clean up those things," he said.

The Lynx are led by junior duo Trinity Law and Danica Kocer. Kocer leads the team with an average of 12.9 points per game, while Law is averaging 11.9 points. Kocer, a 5-foot-9 guard, does most of her damage from the outside, shooting 47 percent on 3-pointers.

"We have to find Kocer on the perimeter. When we've played, she's hurt us," Morgan said. "Trinity Law, we can't let her bring up the ball hard against us. She did a good job of controlling the tempo."

Because the Class AA Round of 16 bracket won't be re-seeded, the winner of today's game knows they will play one of two opponents in the state quarterfinals March 15. Mitchell or Brandon Valley will take on either fourth-seeded Sioux Falls O'Gorman or No. 13 Spearfish, which plays at 6 p.m. today in Sioux Falls.