Heading into the final weeks off the season, the University of Minnesota, Morris women's basketball team needed to win out to earn their third straight Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) championship, and the Cougars did just that, capping it off Saturday by beating visiting Northland 74-64 to successfully defend their title.
"This season was a little different than last year, in that as the season went on we knew we had to win out," head coach Tim Grove said. "And they're all special, no one is any more or less than the others. Someone said to me after the game that it never gets old, and it doesn't. Every year is special. It's a great feeling, and I'm really proud of our players."
Morris wins for the eighth straight game, sharing the championship with Martin Luther who also won Saturday. Northland fell out of playoff contention with the loss, ending their season.
After a back-and-forth first half that saw 10 different lead changes, the Cougars looked as if they had put the LumberJills away midway through the second when they went up 19 after an Allie Sannes three-pointer put her team up 57-38.
Northland wouldn't go away that easy, though, responding with a 14-4 run over the next four minutes to get the margin back to single digits at 61-52 with just 5:39 left.
The Cougars answered with six straight to go back up by 15, but again the LumberJills came back, getting within eight with two minutes left to play. Then with Northland forced to foul late, Jenni Noordmans sealed the win with a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds, finally putting the game out of reach.
After being held to four points in the first half, Noordmans was the Cougars' catalyst in the second half, scoring 12 points, while adding five rebounds, two assists, and a steal in the period. Having a career year in her final season in maroon and gold, she scores in double figures for a career high 14th time, and has posted her best season in nearly every category.
Emily Mehr led the way with 18 points, but after 14 in the first half she was held relatively quiet in the second.
Alyssa Silva added 12 points, with eight coming in the second half, as she missed just once. Another senior playing her best at the right time, Silva scored in double figures for the 10th time.
The Cougars will open the UMAC Tournament on Wednesday as the No. 2 seed, hosting third-seeded St. Scholastica. The two teams will tip-off at 7:30 on Jim Gremmels Court.