ASHLAND, Ohio - Despite a one-year hiatus, the Michigan Tech women's basketball team showed it still has the knack for the NCAA Tournament play Friday night, making 15 three-pointers and eliminating Kentucky Wesleyan from the Midwest Regional 79-67 in the quarterfinals.
"It really makes you appreciate the opportunity to be down here, how hard it is to get here and really appreciate the extra moments you get to stay together as a team and to continue your careers as Michigan Tech Huskies," Tech coach Kim Cameron said in a postgame phone interview.
The Huskies (21-8) will get a third and final crack at No. 2-ranked Ashland at 7:30 tonight on the Eagles' home floor. Ashland (32-1) dismissed eighth-seeded Indianapolis 70-56 earlier in the evening.
Against a Panther team with a swarming, pressure defense, the Huskies needed their point guard to come up big and Sam Hoyt did just that.
As Cameron put it, Hoyt "took full control of the game" despite "having three people draped on her all night."
The senior lit up KWC for 29 points on 9-of-17 from the field, including 5-of-10 three-point attempts and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Particularly important was Hoyt's five assists and one turnover against the KWC pressure.
"This is what Sam lives for and it's very obvious. The opportunity to one, continue playing, two, be a leader, three, get wins for Michigan Tech, for her teammates and for herself. She's a basketball player and she loves this," Cameron said.
Hoyt's contribution may have been expected, but junior Paige Albi's was perhaps Tech's most pleasant surprise. Playing 20-plus minutes for just the second time since early January, Albi made three triples, scored 11 points and pulled down six boards.
"She had an important job, she stepped up, it's tournament time it's exactly what we need," Cameron said.
The Panthers will have nightmares all summer about Tech's outside shooting after the Huskies made 15-of-28 attempts for an eye-popping 53.6 percent (which was actually better than its overall shooting percentage of 50 percent on 27-of-54).
The KWC pressure often put Tech players in position to hit open threes, but as Cameron noted, the Huskies still had to finish the job, which can be tough in a nervous situation.
"A lot of tournament time is about toughness. That doesn't just include physical toughness. It includes mental toughness," she said.
Jillian Ritchie drained 5-of-10 from outside the arc en route to 19 points and an excellent performance on both ends of the floor. Emma Veach added 10 points, including a pair of treys, and also had seven assists and four rebounds.
Tech started on a 10-2 run but KWC pulled even and held two brief leads late in the first half. The Huskies scored on their first two possessions of the second half to build their lead to eight and the Panthers simply couldn't get enough stops down the stretch to extend their season as Tech's lead never shrunk smaller than seven in the last 10 minutes.
Lauren Goffinet had a hot night of her own for KWC, scoring a team-high 23 points on 9-of-12 from the field. Karly Rhoads added 16 points off the bench for the Panthers, who finish 20-9.
The Huskies lost an 81-68 decision to Ashland last Saturday in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals, but were encouraged by their improvement from their regular-season meeting in January in Houghton. Another big leap will be needed tonight.
"We know that we have to play darn near perfect and we have to compete on every possession. Every possession in a game like that matters. This is the game we've got to get them on. As much as the last one hurt, this is the one to move forward."
Both afternoon games were upsets, with seventh-seeded Wisconsin-Parkside dumping Great Lakes Valley Conference champion Lewis 59-49 and No. 6 Wayne State knocking off No. 3 Findlay 63-58 in an all-GLIAC matchup.
The Rangers and Warriors will play semifinal one today at 5.