A late rally shored up with solid free-throw shooting gave the University of Minnesota, Morris women's basketball team a come-from-behind victory in the season opener at Mayville State Tuesday. After trailing by as much as 11 points in the second half, the Cougars battled back for a 96-89 win.
Playing without standout guard Nikki Washek, head coach Tim Grove needed his entire bench when starters picked up multiple fouls. The reserves responded by playing quality minutes and helping lift the Cougars back into the game. All 12 Cougars scored points on the night. Grove called it "an absolute and complete team effort" that stuck to a game plan.
"We were down for most of the game, and even when we got into foul trouble, we never panicked. We stayed level-headed, focused on our game and kept fighting," he said.
Grove was also pleased with the overall teamwork, as seen in their 22 assists on 29 field goals.
Several of those assists went to sophomore guard Jenni Noordmans on back door cuts, scoring a team-high 26 points, including three 3-pointers. Noordmans' success on offense, Grove said, resulted from his team's ability to identify and respond to Mayville's pressure defense.
"We knew they were going to press us on the perimeter, so we just needed to go back door and take care of the ball, and we did that," he said.
Junior Brandi Cresap, at the point guard position, scored 10 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists.
"Brandi totally controlled the game and kept us together," Grove said.
The game took on a hectic pace from the start as both teams pressured each other all over the court, leading to a fast tempo and plenty of fouls. For the game, UMM shot 36 free throws to Mayville's 43.
The Comets jumped ahead last in the first half when Cougar rebounding lagged and gave Mayville some second-chance points. At halftime, the Cougars trailed 49-42.
UMM continued to trail well into the second half. Down 11 points at the eight-minute mark, the Comets had to sit some starters in foul trouble. This enabled the Cougars to claw their way closer, sparked by Noordmans' long-range shooting and junior Steph Roggenbuck's (14 points, nine rebounds) inside play.
Finally, near the three-minute mark, senior Joy Heysse hit a pair of free throws to put the Cougars ahead 81-80. They would not look back.
Free throws and poor three-point shooting would ultimately be the Comets' undoing. They made just 58 percent from the stripe and only 19 percent from beyond the arc.
The Cougar women play the University of Mary this Saturday in their home opener. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m.