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Cougar women split conference games

The University of Minnesota, Morris women's basketball team split a pair of road games over the weekend, defeating St. Scholastica, but falling to Northland College. The Cougars slip to 3-1 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference and 6-6 overall.

The Cougars take on Presentation College Thursday on the road.

Northland College 63

UM-Morris 56

Friday night in Ashland, Wisc., the Cougars faced UMAC preseason No. 1 Northland College. In a game marked by tenacious ball pressure and big scoring runs, a couple missed shots at the end of the game made the difference as UMM fell 63-56.

The Cougars built a 20-16 lead by the 10-minute mark, sparked by two three-pointers from sophomore guard Jenni Noordmans.

The Lumberjills, paced by senior point guard Lindsay Hamm, made a late run and regained the lead five minutes before intermission.

The Cougars' good ball pressure on the perimeter led to a few mistakes in this sequence as Northland converted layups on back door cuts. The Cougars also struggled with turnovers, a difference that gave the Lumberjills 37 first-half shots to UMM's 27.

"That's a huge difference," said coach Tim Grove.

The Lumberjills led 32-29 at halftime.

Northland's late run carried over into the second as they built a 12-point lead eight minutes in before Grove called time out. His team responded well, pulling off their own 16-4 run, closing the margin to 55-54 with three minutes to play.

On the Cougars' next possession, they missed a layup which Northland converted in transition. The Lumberjills held that lead until the final minute when late free throws gave them the seven-point victory.

Noordmans and senior forward Kara Norris led the Cougars with 11 points apiece. Norris also had a team-high in rebounds with nine. Guard Tara Thielke dished out four assists.

"We're still committing too many turnovers, but we just have to put that behind us," said Grove.

"We were disappointed because we played well on defense but we turned the ball over on big possessions," said Noordmans. "We'll be ready when they come to our place."

UM-Morris 56

St. Scholastica 48

On Saturday, the Cougars were in Duluth to face the Saints of St. Scholastica, a team with a matching 2-1 conference record this season.

Despite no two-point goals in the game's final 3:39, the Cougar women used a late surge, big defensive stops and clutch free-throw shooting to earn a 56-48 win.

"It reminded me of an NBA game," Grove said. "We played 45 minutes just to decide the game in the final three. I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty."

The Hancock guard duo of Thielke and Noordmans paced UMM with 12 and 11 points, respectively.

Both teams scored in quick stretches in the first half, punctuated by long droughts and solid defense.

Noordmans kicked off the scoring with a three-pointer in the first minute. The Saints rallied for six points and from there the teams stalemated until the 15-minute mark.

Guard Diane Blommel and Thielke ignited some production off the bench, hitting back-to-back threes, giving the Cougars a slim margin.

At the 10-minute mark, the Cougars and Saints were tied at 15, when hustling defense slowed both teams. The Cougars committed turnovers on three straight possessions during this stretch.

Noordmans broke the drought with her second three-pointer of the half, giving UMM an 18-15 lead. Scholastica rallied and briefly regained the lead on a three-point play with two minutes remaining.

Another Blommel three-pointer tied the game at 24. She then stole the Saints' inbound pass and drew a foul. She converted the free throw to give the Cougars a 25-24 lead. A late Saints free throw sent the teams into halftime at 25.

The Cougars shot just 30 percent from the floor and were losing the rebounding battle 26-19, while committing six turnovers.

In the second half, the defensive battle continued. Both teams managed only four points combined in the first four minutes.

The Saints went ahead at the 12-minute mark and held that lead until 8:47 when Grove called a timeout.

The Cougars responded to Grove's timeout as they surged ahead on another Noordman's three-pointer and two free throws from junior guard Brandi Cresap. A Thielke three-pointer pushed the lead to six. The junior guard followed that with a steal and layup for a 51-43 margin.

The Saints closed the gap to 52-48 with two minutes to play, but they could draw no closer as the Cougars came up with defensive stops in the game's final minutes. Four free throws from Thielke and Noordmans sealed the win at 56-48.

Thielke's second-half play, in particular, impressed her coach.

"Tara made huge plays for us today in the clutch," Grove said.

On paper, the Cougar offensive story wasn't pretty, a testament to their defensive play. They shot just 28 percent and took five fewer rebounds than Scholastica. In return, they held the Saints to 30 percent shooting, and just 30 percent from beyond the arc.

"That was due to our halfcourt defense. I thought we forced Scholastica into taking some tough shots," Grove said.

In the paint, Steph Roggenbuck led the Cougars with nine boards to go with nine points. Blommel put in a nine and six day.