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CREAGER LIFTS NKU PAST MTU, 67-66 - March 10, 2006
Junior guard scores with 3.9 seconds left as Norse win NCAA Tournament opener

Karyn Creager’s drive in the final seconds

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - The last time Northern Kentucky University and Michigan Tech met in women’s basketball, the Norse pulled out a last-second victory in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament that ignited their run to the 2000 Division II national championship.

That was March 10, 2000, as NKU edged Michigan Tech, 60-59, at Highland Heights, Ky.

Exactly six years later to the very day, the two teams squared off again in the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Region Tournament on Friday. And this one also came down to the last shot of the game.

Karyn Creager’s layup with 3.9 seconds remaining in the game was the difference as NKU pulled out a 67-66 win over Michigan Tech. The Norse survived a desperation 45-footer by Catherine Rottier that missed at the buzzer to improve to 27-4 and advance to Saturday’s 7 p.m. (EST) semifinals against Grand Valley State in Weiser Gym.

Michigan Tech (19-9) had taken a 66-65 lead with 11 seconds remaining when Amanda Sieja powered in for a basket. NKU hustled the ball up the floor, and Nicole Chiodi drove into the lane.

Chiodi found Creager cutting to the basket along the left baseline and delivered a perfect pass. Creager finished the play with the basket that gave NKU a 67-66 advantage with 3.9 seconds on the clock.

“I’ll take (a layup) any day,” NKU head coach Nancy Winstel said of Creager’s basket. “A layup is always an option. Nicole Chiodi advanced the ball up the floor, Karyn took the ball and she had enough sense to take it to the basket and not even really think about it.

“She made a great play. It might have been one of the easiest baskets we had all day.”

Creager scores with 3.9 seconds left on the clock

Nothing came easy the entire game against the physical Michigan Tech defense, which continually denied NKU from getting the ball inside. The Huskies rallied from an early 15-10 deficit to take a 33-30 halftime lead behind the inside play of Seija and the shooting of both Rottier and Jenna Bartels.

“I thought Michigan Tech played great. They were fired up and ready to go,” Winstel said. “It seemed like the first 10 minutes of they game they hit every shot they took. I was hoping they would cool off.

“Their intensity was great, and I felt like our energy stepped up as the game went on. It’s the NCAA Tournament, and people are going to come ready to play.”

The teams battled back and forth in the second half until a 7-0 run gave NKU a 60-54 lead with 4:57 remaining on an Angela Healy basket. Michigan Tech responded as Sarah Magee and Rottier each drained 3-pointers to tie the game at 60-all with 2:54 left.

“It was frustrating,” NKU forward Karmen Graham said of the Michigan Tech comeback. “It seemed like there for a while every shot they took, they made. They have a really good team.”

Creager connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:36 remaining to give NKU a 63-60 lead. After Sieja made it 63-62 with a basket, Healy again hit a short jumper to extend the Norse’s lead to 65-62 with 1:01 remaining.

Rottier, though, converted a driving layup with 47 seconds on the clock to make it a 65-64 NKU advantage. After Brittany Winner missed a jumper, Michigan Tech rebounded and found Sieja inside. She converted the shot, setting the stage for Creager’s winning basket.

On its last possession, Michigan Tech inbounded the ball to Rottier. She drove down the right sideline, cut back to the middle of the floor and launched a shot just over midcourt that fell short and off to the left, allowing third-seeded NKU to advance to the regional semifinals against second-seeded Grand Valley State.

Angela Healy (center) fights for position

“We talked about fouling Michigan Tech since we only had the four team fouls at the end,” Winstel said. “We just told our kids we’re in a man-to-man. We really didn’t want to trap because if you trap, then somebody can pass out of it and hit somebody for a wide-open shot.

“So, we were really in a full-court man-to-man, and we going to switch on everything. If you felt like you were beat, you were to foul and don’t give up a layup. In the (Great Lakes Valley Conference) Tournament (against Kentucky Wesleyan), Drury went the length of the floor and scored on a layup because that kid just raced up the floor. I envisioned Rottier doing the same thing. When she did shoot it, I thought it was off.”

“But, until it left her hand, you obviously knew it was going to go to her, and I thought we did as good as we could do defending it,” Winstel added, “but, it’s March and it’s madness, and shots like that go in.”

Rottier scored 25 points to lead Michigan Tech on 11-for-17 shooting from the field. She also made a trio of 3-point shots and had five assists.

Sieja, a powerful 6-foot-2 post player, finished with 18 points. Bartels added 12 points off the bench for the Huskies, who shot 46.4 percent from the field and committed just seven turnovers.

Graham led NKU with 13 points, and Cassie Brannen added 10 points off the bench. The Norse shot 57.8 percent from the field and made 84.6 percent of their free throws. Katie Butler finished with nine points, while Winner had eight points, seven rebounds and two assists.

Nicole Chiodi, Karmen Graham

Nicole Chiodi scored six points - all in the second half - and led NKU with five assists, including the feed to Creager for the winning basket.

“I thought a major difference in our game was that Nicole got really aggressive offensively and put the ball on the floor and made plays in the second half,” Winstel said. “She had a couple layups, she attacked the basket, and she drove and kicked.

“This is the first time this group has ever been in the NCAA. We played two years ago at Quincy and lost by two in the first game, so this is kind of uncharted waters for them.”

NKU and Michigan Tech have now played three times in women’s basketball, all during the NCAA Tournament. NKU is 3-0, but the Norse have won those three games by a total of four points.

In 1999, Michelle Cottrell scored at the buzzer after grabbing an offensive rebound to give NKU a 65-63 win. That is the largest margin of victory in the series.