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Cougar women win 11 straight

The University of Minnesota, Morris women's basketball team has won 11 straight games after defeating Martin Luther and Bethany on the road.

The Cougars are now 16-6 overall and 11-1 in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, tied for first place with Northland College.

The wins preserve UMM's bid to host the UMAC post-season games. They will host at least one playoff game, and possibly two, if the Lumberjills should lose over the next two weeks.

They return home this weekend to close out the regular season with games against Northwestern and Crown College.

UM-Morris 60

Martin Luther 58

Led by Steph Roggenbuck's double-double night, the Cougar women overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to defeat Martin Luther College 60-58 in New Ulm Friday.

The Knights were led by all-UMAC guard Erica Babinec who is averaging better than 13 points a game. She scored six of her team's first 11 points as they jumped out to an early lead.

Slowly Martin Luther extended their lead through the first half, taking advantage of UMM's cold shooting. They led 17-9 at the 8:50 mark and increased it to 26-14 with 3:00 remaining in the first half.

A layup from Kara Norris and a three-pointer at the buzzer from Diane Blommel made it 31-19 at intermission.

The Cougars shot just 26 percent in the half, and a mere 18 percent from three-point land. Even their trusty free-throw shooting dropped off as they made only three of six in the half.

The Cougars turned to defense to spark a comeback starting at the 17-minute point of the second half.

Trailing 38-23, UMM outscored the Knights 28-7 over the next 12 minutes, including a stretch of six minutes when they held Martin Luther without a point.

Back-to-back three pointers from Brandi Cresap and Tara Thielke and eight points from Roggenbuck over this span provided the offensive recovery.

The Cougars stretched their lead to eight points with just under a minute to play when the Knights made a frighteningly quick comeback.

Two free throws and a stolen inbound pass that turned into a Babinec three-point play cut the lead to three with 28 seconds to go.

On the next possession, Martin Luther fouled Cresap who uncharacteristically missed both free throws. The Knights scored with nine seconds remaining.

Thielke was fouled on the ensuing possession and made one free throw that sealed the victory at 60-58.

After the game, head coach Tim Grove said the difference between the halves was rebounding and defense.

"At halftime we talked about renewing our intensity on defense and not giving them second chances." he said. "Our effort in both places was notably better."

While pleased with his team's comeback, Grove was satisfied (and relieved) just to come away victorious.

"We'll just put this win in our pockets and get out of town."

Roggenbuck led all scorers with 19 points to go with 10 rebounds. Thielke added 13 points. Jenni Noordmans palmed four steals.

UM-Morris 83

Bethany Lutheran 70

Saturday night in Mankato, the Cougars defeated Bethany Lutheran 83-70.

UMM took the lead at the 15:25 mark of the first half and never trailed after that, maintaining a double digit lead for almost the entire second half.

Thielke sparked the Cougars, finishing with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and 5-for-9 from beyond the arc.

"It was nice to see those threes," Grove said after the game. "Tara helped us break out of a three-point slump."

On Friday night, against Presentation, the Vikings pulled down 17 offensive rebounds, a statistic that Grove knew his team would have to focus on.

"Bethany is a very good rebounding team and holding them to 11 offensive rebounds really made a difference for us."

UMM had a 37-27 rebounding advantage.

The Vikings have been led this season by a trio of scorers: Nicole Jones, Caitlin Meyer and Anna Cepek. Grove said his team focused on keeping them in check. While they did manage 46 points collectively, the Cougars kept them from impacting the game's momentum.

"Our defense was about guarding [Jones, Meyer and Cepek] and taking away what they wanted to do. I think we did that well enough tonight," Grove said. "They like to dribble drive and we forced them out of the lanes pretty well."

Thielke was one of four Cougars to finish in double digits. Sophomore Jenni Noordmans added 13, while Roggenbuck and Emily Mehr had 16 points apiece to go along with 14 rebounds.