Willie Taylor watched the star of this year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament and immediately thought of his team’s best player.
Arizona guard Aari McDonald inspired comparisons to Stillwater senior guard Alexis Pratt.
“That’s the kind of player that this young lady can be in college,” said Taylor, the Stillwater girls coach. “She can be that kind of player.”
Pratt sees it, too.
“She’s an amazing ball player,” Pratt said of McDonald. “A lot of her stuff that she does, I see that I do — her shot, her speed to get to the basket, her passes and everything. I feel like we’re the exact same.”
McDonald averaged more than 20 points a game this season while leading the Wildcats to Sunday’s championship game against Stanford. She is quick, strong and skilled.
Pratt averaged 20 points a game this season while leading the Ponies to their third straight Class 4A state tournament. She is quick, strong and skilled. She is also the 2021 Pioneer Press East Metro girls basketball player of the year.
“As a coach, when it’s a big, big game, you start to feel sick before a game,” Taylor said. “Whenever I start to feel sick, I’m like, ‘I got her. I’m good.’ Because the other team can’t prepare for Alex.”
There is hardly anyone like her. The 5-foot-5 guard is impossible to stay in front of on offense, and she is as tenacious a defender as you’ll find. Stillwater forced opponents to play up-tempo because Pratt — also a track star — was constantly pushing the pace.
“When I played basketball, I was quick,” Taylor said. “I played Alexis 1 on 1, and she went by me so fast, I went, ‘OK, I’m done with that. I’m good.’ Alexis being here extended my career more years, because I’ll tell ya what, it’s just great having her. When she gets the ball at half court, they have to have two or three kids running back, or she’s going to get to the backboard.”
Stillwater reached the state tournament title game in 2019. In 2020, the Ponies lost in the state semifinals. And heading into this year, Taylor recognized all his team had lost. Gone were Sara Scalia and Liza Karlen, both of whom had graduated and moved on to Division I college programs.
Taylor looked at his team’s inexperience and thought Stillwater probably could still finish in the top three or four in the Suburban East Conference.
But Pratt, a Nebraska-Omaha commit, came back even smarter and with an improved jump shot. Everyone else followed her lead, raising their games, as well. Stillwater made it to state with an undefeated record before falling to Chaska in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
“I thought I had to step up and show them what to do, what not to do and certain plays if they needed help,” Pratt said. “I thought we would be pretty good this year.”
It’s hard not to be when you have a player like Pratt setting the tone. She constantly is learning and growing as a player, controls the offense and pesters opponents. Pratt played with boys for two years growing up and always had her older sibling star athletes to compete with. So it’s no surprise how tough she is.
Pratt will drive into the paint and take a tough fall, and Taylor immediately has thought, “she’s done.” Then the guard gets up again and come back even tougher the next play. She led the team in rebounding a few different times this season.
Defensively, Pratt is so relentless that she sees at times how she can frustrate opponents, from the looks they’ll give or what they’ll say. The same things that cause opponents to grow frustrated cause observers to enjoy.
“If I did not coach at Stillwater, I’d want to go watch her play,” Taylor said. “Because I’ll tell ya what, when she’s on the basketball court, especially when her game is clicking, when her game is clicking, there is no one better in Minnesota, I don’t think.”
Cassidy Carson, senior forward, Eastview: South Dakota commit finished in the top six in Lightning history in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals.
Sophie Hart, senior forward, Farmington: North Carolina State commit led Tigers to the state tournament while averaging a double-double — 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Ronnie Porter, junior guard, Como Park: Porter averaged 24.4 points, 9.4 assists and 6.8 steals while leading Como Park to an undefeated regular season.
Ella Runyon, junior guard, Hill-Murray: Averaged 18.5 points a game for Class 3A semifinal-bound Pioneers.
Tamia Ugass, senior forward, Roseville: Louisiana State commit averaged 18.3 points while serving as a force on the glass.